Radiant, Enthusiastic, Fun, Energized, Sparkling, Amazing, and Fascinating! When I asked some of my running mates for one word that describes Ann Alegnani, those were the responses. I agree with all of those descriptions and can give many more. We told you some very special moments occurred on our Derby Festival Marathon trip to Louisville. I’m excited to share this story of a beautiful person whom I truly adore.
In 2014 I met Ann through our CARA summer marathon training program. However it wasn’t until the 2015 CARA program, when we trained together, that I really got to know this amazing woman. A treasured friendship has since developed. Week after week this lovable red head brings so much energy and laughter to our group. From Bloody Mary’s to post run shots, she will usually supply the best when it comes to snack days at our site. To celebrate our mate Emily’s birthday it was “shots of Jack for everyone”, courtesy of Ann.
Ann didn’t catch the running bug until her mid 40’s. In 2009 she ran “Hustle up the Hancock” with some colleagues. Ann said, “That was the beginning of the end for me. I enjoyed the training, the excitement of the event and the thrill of the finish! I remember after I completed the run my husband was immediately there to celebrate my finish and accomplishment.” A short time later she trained for and ran the Wrigleyville 5k. Like so many of us, she was hooked!
As her 3 children got older Ann, a high school counselor, found herself with more free time. She ran more and at longer distances. “Since I have started running I feel the fittest and healthiest I have ever felt in my life. When I feel fit and healthy everything else seems to fall into place”, Ann told us. In August 2010, with her entire family on hand, she finished her 1st half marathon. Although she previously vowed to never run a full marathon, her family knew better. In October 2011 she ran 26.2 miles through the city streets and crossed the finish line at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
She gets tremendous support from her family when it comes to her running adventures. Her brother John, also one of our running mates, provides much inspiration and logs many miles with her throughout training. The support of her husband Marty has been amazing for Ann and our whole group for that matter. At most races he’s out there providing words of encouragement and cheering us along. He’s become a great friend to all of us. Ann’s son Martin is quite the runner too, often pacing her at various races.
Peer pressure and fear of missing out forced Ann to sign up for the Derby Festival in Louisville, which would be her 5th full marathon. Several of us were being trained by Eric Wallor from Full Potential Running. Wanting to be on a similar training plan through the winter, Ann hired him too. This proved to be a game changer! After training under a general plan for the previous 4 marathons, Eric was able to tailor a plan specifically for Ann and the somewhat hillier course she was running.
Ann, with a previous PR of 4:07 needed a 4:00 finish time to earn a Boston Qualifier. “I am going to say I NEVER realized that I was capable of achieving a BQ EVER! It always sounded, to me, like a lofty unrealistic goal that would be unattainable for a runner like me”, says Ann. Marty, Eric, and the rest of us knew otherwise. We watched her train and saw her get stronger week after week. She soon began to believe in the possibility.
“I felt great going into race week. I knew I had precisely followed Eric’s training plan. I dreaded his weekly emails and questioned my ability, on a weekly basis, to complete his workouts, but I did. I was also a fanatic about my nutrition and sleep for two weeks before the marathon. I started to mentally prepare by looking and studying the course and discussing race strategy with my brother and son.”
After the 4:00 pace group went out too fast, Ann settled in to a comfortable pace with Jimmy and Missy. She began to run her race. She says, “It was great running with and seeing my running mates along the course. I expected to hate the smaller race and lack of crowd but I found myself loving the intimacy. There was a large group of us that went to Louisville and I saw and ran with everyone along the race. I also “felt” everyone’s support from home along every mile. This might sound corny but every time we crossed a timing mat I could feel the support of everyone at home and those cheering us along the course.”
About the front half Ann says, “I knew my race was going well but there was no way I was going to jinx myself. I was grateful to get through Iroquois Park feeling really strong. I can remember one of the runners saying to me, “We are going to be paying for these hills later in the race” and I said to myself, “I trained my ass off for this park so I think I will be just fine…thank you, Eric!”. Positive self-talk was all that was happening during the race and I think that also helped.” I will note that Ann was spotted singing and dancing while maintaining pace at the 10 mile mark.
By mile 18 Ann believed the BQ was a possibility. That contributed to her determination to try to make it happen. By mile 20 her son Martin, also a runner, was pacing her. Ann describes the end so perfectly I want to let her words finish the story:
“For the last 1.5 miles of the marathon seeing my husband, brother, Jane, Amanda and Richard gave me such a boost of energy. Everyone knew the possibility of what could happen and I didn’t want to disappoint. Finally, around mile 25, I see a pacer…I couldn’t make out the sign they were holding but I did run to catch up with him and to my utter shock it was the 3:50 pacer…that took my breath away. That was the moment I realized what was about to happen. Not only would I qualify for Boston but I would crush my qualifying time. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that occurring. I crossed the finish line with that 3:50 pacer! Official time, 3:50:03.
Crossing the finish line was overwhelming but lonely. That was the first time I had felt alone through the entire race. I started to cry and hyperventilate, I couldn’t get a hold of myself. I wanted my husband, brother, son, running mates there to celebrate with me. A volunteer approached and asked if I needed medical assistance. I shared with her that I was just overcome with emotion; I told her about my accomplishment and she gave me the biggest hug! That hug meant the world to me. After that, a flood of text messages stared to come in and I was soon joined by my crazy running friends! The celebrations began for everyone’s Derby Marathon accomplishments.
As I reflect on the Derby Marathon I think about the weather. Never in a million years would I have seen myself running in the rain. My younger son Michael actually texted me a few days before the race saying, “Mom, don’t know if you have looked at the weather but they are predicting rain for the marathon. Will you run if it rains?” My response was, “of course, I have trained my butt off for this race…rain isn’t going to stop me!” His response was,” Okay, wow”. My youngest is away at school and has not been privy to the “crazy” that has overtaken his mother during this training season. I look back at the wonderful memories as we trained in rain, sleet, snow and subzero temps with joy in my heart and a smile on my face. I wouldn’t trade any of those runs for a million dollars as they have forged me into the runner I never dreamed I could be and gave me the gift of an amazing group of friends that I will be forever grateful for.
I could never have accomplished this goal without my husband Marty. I think that his belief in me carried me through the Derby marathon. He rode a bike throughout the whole race to cheer me on. One of my concerns with running the Derby Marathon was going to be the lack of supporters. I was so accustomed to Chicago and riding the adrenaline of the crowd. That was certainly not going to be the case in Louisville. Having him along for the race was amazing.”
When I asked some of the running mates for 1 statement about Ann, here’s what they say:
Ann has a passion for running and for fun…she makes it contagious!
She’s so warm and inviting and so easy to run with.
She ups the fun quotient & it is great quality time with my sister, aka Wonder Woman.
Ann’s spirit is infectious and her sincerity, kindness and HUMOR are great gifts to the universe!
If you’re in a bad mood, spend 2 minutes with Ann…she’ll have you smiling and will kick your ass if you’re not.
See you in Boston Ann! We Love You!