It’s not uncommon to hear runners referring to their regular run in their own terms: “me time,” perhaps, “free therapy” or “instant stress relief”.
For Tracy Wollschlager, running is her “coffee before [her] cup of coffee” – which is especially apropos considering that after moving to Seattle, the U.S. coffee capital, she started wrapping up her runs with a cup.
“I really get that endorphin thing that you always hear runners talking about,” she says. "If I start the day thinking how much I have to do and how much I have on my plate, running helps me clear my head. When I go for a run, for some reason, I just think, ‘I can tackle the day.’”
Several times a week, the busy mother of two, 45, fits in a 5-to-10-mile run in the early morning hours before her family is up or in between her kids’ sports practices, in addition to a longer run on the weekends.
“In terms of a workout, running is so easy to get done,” she says. “I can get in eight miles in an hour, and I’m home, done, easy. I have done so many runs, then come home, changed my clothes, and thrown water on my face, and then gotten to the hockey rink.”
Wollschlager, who’s originally from Cincinnati, wasn’t always so enthusiastic about running. Although she ran track in junior high school, she viewed it more as a way to maintain her fitness for other activities. “In ninth grade, my coach tried to push me to do the mile and then I quit,” she recalls. “Running was for all my other sports.”
Fast forward a couple of decades, when, about a year after she and her husband had their daughter, Wollschlager decided to tackle a marathon. The first-time mother had been on crew team for a while, but the time-consuming schedule was difficult to maintain with the new demands of parenthood. So Wollschlager signed up for the Lewis & Clark Marathon in 2003, and despite having "no clue" on how to train, she says, she finished in an impressive 3:47.
But even with those encouraging results, Wollschlager didn’t really hit her stride with running until her family moved a couple of years later to Detroit, where she met her eventual running partner, Nancy Schubring, via a mutual friend.
The women carpooled to the Detroit Marathon together, with Schubring running the full distance and Wollschlager the half. But by some stroke of luck, when the groups of half- and full-marathoners merged on the course, they found themselves alongside one another, running about the same pace.
As they pounded the pavement, a lasting friendship was being forged that would spans thousands of shared miles and about 20 marathons. Wollschlager credits Schubring for helping her feel inspired and enthusiastic about running.
“We started running 10 miles every Thursday, and I would have never on my own said, ‘I’m going run 10 miles every week,’” Wollschlager says. “We have this joke that if we want to talk, we would never meet at a coffee shop. We have to run together to be able to talk.”
But all that conversation didn’t slow down Wollschlager, who qualified for Boston in 2007, won the Sunburst Marathon in 2008 and then the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon in 2010, with a time of 3:00.23. The latter was a wholly unexpected victory for Wollschlager, as she recalls being behind another woman trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials, who apparently dropped out around mile 20.
Gratifying as the win was, the experience reinforced an underlying running philosophy for Wollschlager, who avoids putting unnecessary expectations on herself.
“There are so many factors that go into a strong finish, so I think you just have to enjoy the run for what it is,” she says. “People will posts their times on Facebook, but that has never been my driving force. I just want to do it because I want to do it.”
Since moving to Seattle in 2012, Wollschlager has shifted from marathons to more trail races, including her first ultra, the Chuckanut 50K in March, in which she finished as the eighth woman. (In addition, she and Schubring aim to run a marathon together every year.)
And, after trying out several other running clubs that weren’t quite the right fit, she’s fallen in step with the group at Mill Creek Running and Multisport -- not to mention developed an appreciation for milder West Coast weather than what she'd been used to in the Midwest.
“It’s great because they inspire me to do things, and it seems like there are always opportunities to run with somebody,” she says. “I totally enjoy the atmosphere out here. I am so thankful to not have to run in zero degree weather anymore.”