I caught up with Michelle Didion recently (not literally, as you’ll see). I think you’ll enjoy her story…
So what did it feel like to win Knoxville?
It was absolutely mind-blowing. I have won a couple small local races, but it doesn’t compare at all. Even people who don’t understand running understand that winning a marathon is a big deal. My name was even on the Marathonguide website. Totally surreal. I still just shake my head about it. And I made money running. Never thought that would happen.
What was your time?
3:11:54, a personal best. The last couple of miles were brutal.
So only 19 year-old males trying for Boston would be upset with that time?
They’d have needed a 3:10:59 or better. I’ll break that this year. I very much want to be as good as the standard for a young man. I’m surprised to have come so close so soon. On a flat course, I would’ve had it. But that’s ok, I don’t have to hit every goal for the year before the end of April.
What’s next after sub 3:10?
Sub 3:05 of course. I’m not sure if a sub 3 is ever in my future, but that would be incredible. I think I’ve got a ways to go yet.
How many miles do you run in a typical week?
This year, I’ve become more aggressive with mileage. I run every day and I haven’t had a rest day in over 100 days. I’ve already logged over 1200 miles this year, And I’ve already done three or four 100 mile weeks.
Yikes, what’s that like?
Well, it’s a little over 14 miles per day.
Apart from the math…
Now, I just run by feel. I get up in the morning and start running, and what my legs say I need to do, I do. If I feel “Oooh yeah” I’ll do speed work. If I feel badly, I’ll take it easy, but I run each day. I know that’s not what people say I should do, but I’m fine with that.
So no rest for weary legs?
Well, I found that I was taking rest days more for mental than physical reasons. I’d get into a bind, not be able to run, and just call it a “rest day.” So for a little while, I chose not to do rest days and see what happens. It’s assumed a life of its own, now. It’s especially tough right after marathons. I was taking rest days because I was mentally weak.
What got you started with running?
I started running 5 years ago, but the story begins back in Junior High. Back then I ran track. I was good, but not great. I’m not athletic. I suck at anything requiring hand-eye coordination. Unfortunately, I developed knee problems and ended up on crutches for a good portion of Jr. High and High School. After three knee surgeries, doctors told me I’d never run again. So I stopped running and didn’t run again for over 17 years and I always felt like I missed something.
I got married and had four children. With each child, I gained more weight. By the time the last one came around, I was tired of doing the diet thing and counting calories. I began to think about running. I wanted to run Sunburst in South Bend. I just want to do it once: One race to make up for all the races I didn’t do.
Despite knee pain, I started training, little by little. Each day I tried to run one or two telephone polls further before turning back. I worked up to a 10 k, which I did at about an 11 min pace. I was one of the last runners to finish. But it was a life-changing moment. After that point I didn’t care what hurt, I just kept running. That was really the beginning.
I kept running, lost over 80 pounds and got better and better. Along the way I also discovered Glucousamine, and it took care of my knee problems. I run 70-100 miles week and have less pain now than when I was a couch potato.
Perhaps I should also interview the nay saying doctors….
I’d like to read that!
I hear you have asthma.
It’s pretty serious. I was first diagnosed in college. I’ve been to the emergency room several times. It went away after college, but after I started running again, I had an attack. My doctor said it was an isolated occurrence, but it wasn’t. So, I’m on medication and use an inhaler before I run. I can never be without an inhaler. I’ll tank one or two races a year because I just can’t breathe. Usually late summer early fall.
What would you do tomorrow if doctors told you that you couldn’t run anymore?
I would ignore them.
Lately, your running performance has improved markedly. What have you done differently?
Besides the increased mileage and running by feel every day, I took off another 10-15 pounds. I got serious about getting down to racing weight.
What keeps you running?
[Running] defines me in a way that nothing else has. I’ve discovered a potential I never dreamed I had.
How do you make it through a marathon when you’re not at your best?
The roughest part for me is usually miles 13-17. The middle part is hard for me. You’ve run enough that it’s feeling hard, but not enough to even think about the finish line. To get though it, I just focus on the next mile. Chances are at some point you’ll feel a little better.
Trails or Road?
Trails. Roads are for training. Trails are for feeding my soul.
How do you feel about tread mills?
I love tread mills. I have 4 children. If I didn’t have a treadmill, I wouldn’t be running. I got one because I was once attacked by a dog while running. Once someone threw a beer bottle on me. After that, we bought a treadmill.
What kind of shoes do you wear?
I typically wear a cushioned Asics, Saucony, or Adidas. I go through over a pair a month now, so I try to buy multiple pairs at a time at the best discount I can find.
Ever get hit by a car when running?
No. But a couple of times I wished I would have been.
Is it true that some people call you Lindsay Wagner?
I’ve never heard that one before. If they do it’s behind my back.
So Lindsay, what are you running from?
Tough question. Everyone is running from something. I’m running toward being something on my own, so I guess that means I’m running from being an ordinary mom. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom, but it’s nice to have something that’s just mine: to be good at something. I’ve never really been good at anything.
I guess I’m running from being ordinary.
What are some of your PRs?
5k – 18:55 (Running with the Irish 2007 winner)
10k – 40:45 (2007)
½ marathon – 1:31:49 (2006)
Marathon – 3:11:54 (2007 Knoxville Marathon winner)
Ultras (50k) – 5:24 (3rd place The Huff 50k)
I hear you run up the stairs of the Sears Tower competitively. Are you insane?
Yeah, it’s the Go Vertical race up the Sears Tower. You run all the way to the top. My PR is just above 19 minutes. You know how that last ½ mile of your 5k PR felt? Well, at the Sears Tower, you start to feel like that 90 seconds in. It’s much harder than running. It’s all in the lungs. I’ve finished those coughing up blood, literally.
Can we run the same race and switch chips so I can get to Boston?
Sure. How about Sunburst… June 2nd.
Ah, too bad! I have my first Ultra the very next day (Hitchcock 50k in Aiken).
Won’t you look like quite the stud then.
What is the toughest race you’ve ever run?
The 2004 Chicago Marathon (My second marathon and a Boston Qualification attempt). I ended up in an ambulance at mile 15. I’m not really sure what happened, but it was probably dehydration, and I had stomach problems, too. At around mile 13, I was dizzy and not quite sure where I was, so I stopped. I tried to continue on but collapsed and was taken away in an ambulance.
Two weeks later I qualified in the Detroit Marathon.
How did you get hooked up with the Snickers Marathon Team?
It was a fluke. I Got an email from active.com asking if I wanted to apply for the team. Later on forums, some folks were blowing off steam about their Snickers rejection notes. I didn’t get one. Weeks later I got notification that I’d been accepted into their program.
The whole thing is about being validated as an athlete. That was really huge for me. That has fueled a lot of my progress since then; having someone believe in me with their pocketbook.
Do you get free stuff?
I get clothes, and if the name “Snickers” is legible in print or video I get bonus perks. No shoes, though.
What about actual Snickers?
Yeah, 2 days after Knoxville marathon, I received from UPS my weight in snickers marathon bars! I’m arranging a party.
Can I get some?
Sure. How many you want?
Do you have any pre-race rituals or superstitions?
Flying pig socks. I must wear flying pig socks when I race. The socks help me fly. I also paint my toenails the night before the race. Maybe because I just didn’t want to see them turn black.
(Author’s Note: Flying Pigs of the sort seen above can be found online at Natasha’s Cafe. You know you want one…)
What was the best piece of running advice you ever got?
To stop listening to advice. I just need to do what I need to do. As long as I get results, no one can argue with me.
Okay, what was the worst?
When started running and finished my first race, I figured I was owed real shoes. So, I drove 50 miles to the closest bona fide running store. I got tested and fitted for some expensive motion control shoes. The problem was, they were not the right shoe for me. I was injured after the very first run in them.
What is the one thing you hate about races that you’d fix if you were in charge?
Port-a-potties. There’s never enough. Timing the last visit before a marathon is a big deal for me. Let’s put it this way, I’ve gotten very good at “tying my shoes.”
Are you satisfied with the way female runners are treated or understood?
If I tell someone I won a race, I’m asked, “How did you beat all the guys?” If my sport was basketball or anything else, no one would say that. In most sports, women and men compete separately. In our sport, women and men run together. I beat all but 12 of the guys.
It’s hard to explain this to people. It’s like they don’t believe you’ve won.
Are female runners less celebrated than males?
At Knoxville, they didn’t even recognize me as the winner of the race. I heard my name, but it was mentioned like any other name. There was no tape, no announcement, no recognition. A reporter actually noticed before the race officials. You can bet that the men’s winner was done right.
What is the dumbest thing you’ve ever read in Runner’s World?
The lipstick thing. I read this article that said women should carry lipstick and a mirror during races. Near the end, they should go to the side of the road and use the mirror to re-apply lipstick to prepare for the finish line photo.
I don’t even apply lipstick to go out on a date half the time.
When I first met you at Disney 2006, you were wearing a biohazard suit. What was up with that?
The weather at the Disney Marathon can be tricky. It was my first marathon in 2004. I thought it would be very warm, but it was quite cold. In 2006 it was supposed to be quite warm again, so again I didn’t bring warm clothes. It turned out to be a day of record cold in Orlando, below 30 degrees at the start. A friend of mine works at MIT Steel, and he brought theses hazardous waste suits. So I wore it. I looked sort of like an Umpa-Lumpa. But I was warm before the race.
What was your time for Disney 2006? I’m just curious.
3:43, I think. It was enough for another BQ, plus I took pictures with every character on the course along the way. I took it easy.
I am not yet close to qualifying for Boston. My PR is a paltry 3:28 and I ran Disney 2006 in 3:31. How does it feel that, in the only marathon we’ve run together, I beat you?
You didn’t run a half marathon the day before let alone pose with Disney characters along the way. Do that. Then we’ll talk. Until then, perhaps you need me to pace you for your BQ. I can pull you thought it.
Thanks. But for the record, you do acknowledge that in head-to-head competition, you are 0-1 against me, correct?
Yes. Care for a rematch?
Um…. I’ll be washing my hair. Something will suddenly come up.
I’ll be at Sunburst on June 2nd!
I can’t wait to hear about it. I sense a sub 3:10. Thanks very much for taking time to talk. It’s been fun!
I have to tell you that I absolutely love your blog. I have it bookmarked in my favorites and visit it from time to time and am always grinning when I do. Thanks for checking in with me and following my progress.
If you want to comment on this interview, head on back to the introductory post. Michelle would love to hear from you!