“With proper training anyone can be a runner.” That was Lacy Hansen’s original assertion when she handpicked a group of five novice runners in 2011 and dubbed them the Prairie Fire Marathon Local Joes, the idea being that these ordinary citizens would tweet their respective journeys toward a 5K or half marathon in real time.
Three years later, this season’s cohort has shaped up to include nine runners of varying experience levels — but they share one thing in common: grit. They are “people who had running backgrounds but wanted redemption from a horrible race, or they continued and continued to plug at this goal, and it just hasn’t happened for them,” says Hansen, social media manager for the Prairie Fire Marathon, which is an official event of the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission.
The Local Joes were chosen by contest for the first time this year. From a field of 48 applicants, race organizers started “listening to some other stories.” There’s Arleigh Aldrich, who — no matter what she tries — cannot get her half marathon below two hours. Chandra Stauffer has technically completed a half marathon — but not without feeling miserable, walking too much and crying in the rain. Her motto this year: “No tears, all moxie.” Jared Estes was told he might never walk again after a collision with a drunk driver going 100 miles an hour left him with burns over 50 percent of his body. Now he’s stubbornly chasing a marathon personal best.
“Stripping yourself raw”
GoRun Wichita, one of the race’s sponsors, has donated the services of its Start2Finish coaches. Each Local Joe is following a program individualized specifically for him or her.
At least one Local Joe has discovered what a difference professional training can make. Melissa Scheffler, anchor and reporter at KWCH, has run two half marathons and is gunning for her first full marathon. In previous races she experienced foot problems that required steroid shots in her toes, “and I think, because I’ve been training the right way, I haven’t had any of those issues.”
At press time Scheffler had just bagged a 20-mile run. “Not many people get the chance to strip themselves raw like that.” On those extended runs she gets by with a little help from her fellow Joes, who find solidarity in training together. “I couldn’t imagine doing this without them, because once you hit those double-digit miles you really need people around to keep you going, to push you that extra distance, to keep your speed up.”
Yet more motivation
The stakes are even higher for Scheffler, thanks to being in the public eye. Strangers stop her on the street to see if she completed her last training run. “Oh, you have to get it done — everyone is watching.” On the other hand she receives personalized, on-air weather reports from Storm Team 12 to plan her runs. “They don’t make fun of me when I wear my bright pink running shoes in with my suit, because my legs are too tired and the thought of standing in heels is unbearable."
Even though this year’s Local Joes have various finish lines locked into their steely, gimlet-eyed gaze, each one proves Hansen’s original thesis. “These are people who were loaded with self doubt 16 weeks ago, and now you would look at them and say, oh, they’ve been running forever.”
Follow the Prairie Fire Local Joes
Become a Local Joe Yourself
Race organizers are considering adding another class of Local Joes for the Prairie Fire Half Marathon in Spring 2015. Track prairiefiremarathon.com and the Prairie Fire FaceBook and Twitter streams starting in December for more information.