Runner Spotlight: April Woo

A bit about you:

Hello!  I am April Woo, married to my high school sweetheart Daniel, mother of four children (Kaden -16,  Kya -14, Kamden - 12, and Kira - 9), coach, colleague, and avid runner.  Every morning (with a few exceptions) before the sun comes up I am out running, head to work, and in the evenings, I am often coaching kids in a sport or two. 

Throughout my childhood, running wasn’t something I did often unless it was mixed in the various sports I played (soccer, volleyball, basketball and softball throughout high school).  Ironically, in high school they would put pinch runners in for me in softball J. 

Growing up my mom always ran, and I would run an occasional race with her, but never trained. My mom has always been an inspiration and wanted the 5 of us to be active and involved. To this day she still runs many local races. It wasn’t until after having our fourth child, 9 years ago, that I realized running would have such an impact on my daily life. Running has taught me so many life lessons, helped me to stay balanced, brought so much joy even during times of pain, allowed me to develop lifelong friendships, challenged me in ways I never thought possible, and allowed me to go so many places and create so many memories!

About a year after having our youngest child, in 2009, I started running with an empowering group of ladies who ran in college. I had never run faster than an 11-minute mile and was just trying to breathe without dying on 5 am morning runs with them. After 5-10 minutes of running with them, I would look at my watch and say out loud, “Are we done yet?” or “Has it only been 10 minutes?”  We would run 3-4 days a week for 45 minutes and I would do the elliptical 2 other days during the week.  On our runs we would be turning through Cherokee and Seneca (anyone who has ever run with Jen Alessandro knows you don’t stay on one street very long and definitely never a flat route either) and I had no clue where we were, so what did I do?…..I just tried to keep up. By keeping up, I mean trying to see a glimpse of shadow sometimes blocks ahead.  Was I running in FEAR because it was so early in the morning in a dark park or because I was worried about getting LOST…both highly likely reasons for trying to keep up.  Through this, it forced me to step way out of my comfort zone and keep going.  I just kept showing up and tried to keep up and before I knew it I was running sub 8 min miles, then sub 7, and continued to get faster and improve. After running with this exceptional group of ladies for over a year, I ran the Kentucky Derby Half Marathon almost an hour faster than I had ever run it before.  At this time, I never had a watch and just kept running to keep up.  It’s amazing what you can do when you are surrounded by friends that believe in you and then you start believing in yourself too!

After now 9 years, I still manage to get up and make time for running most days still at 5 am due to work and kids schedules.  Often times, people ask why do I get up so early to run and most days I do so because otherwise it wouldn’t happen.  It’s like many things in life, if it’s important to you, you will find a way.  I can tell you it’s not always easy nor do I wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed, but once I do get out I feel so much better and my day has started in a positive direction.  Sometimes days I wake up sluggish end up being some of my better runs.  I have been a member of the Pacers & Racers racing team now for eight years, developed a huge support group throughout the years often referred to as ARC (Audubon Running Club), and I have met so many people that also get up at the crack of dawn and join in the running fun!  We often times overlap many other running clubs such as DCRC (Derby City Run Club) or attend track workouts conducted by the local running stores as well. There are many weeks where I run with a different person each day which always makes it interesting too!

What is your favorite distance?

My favorite distance is the Marathon.  If you had asked me this back in 2006 as I sat in a warm Panera with 3 small children watching my mom run the Chicago Marathon in sleet, wind, and snow, I would have told you I would never run a marathon.  During the KDF Mini-Marathon I would see the full marathoners split and think never will I run twice the distance of a half. 

With the encouragement of friends and support of family, I decided to sign up for my first marathon, which was Chicago (10.10.10).   This race was memorable and I can still remember tearing up at the start as the National Anthem played.  I remember an older gentleman asking me at the start what time I was shooting for and I said “This is my first marathon and would like to get under 4 hours, but would be really happy if I could do this (as I tapped the back of another runner with a 3:30 pace bib on).”  Would you know that my time that year was 3:30:00 exactly!!  So thankful my husband and children were there to watch my first marathon too!

I just finished Marathon #28 last month.  The Marathon has pushed me to limits I never thought imaginable and although it took me a lot of trial, tribulation, pain, and hurt at times, I finally met my goal of breaking 3 hours (2:59:26) in Chicago 2015 after missing it by 1 second per mile in the 2013 Boston Marathon running 3:00:25.  Our son 11 years old at the time literally said “Mom if you had just run one second faster per mile you would have done it!” I joke with him now that he is older about this because he runs in high school and truly understands how hard it can be to drop seconds on times whereas before he didn’t quite understand.

I love the challenges that the marathon brings.  Every race is a challenge, but the marathon is one that I find often times challenges me just as much if not more mentally than physically.  It helps me to grow and learn more about others and myself.  The marathon allows me hours to clear my mind and often times reflect since our days are so busy and time to get to know others and hear their stories.  Yes, I talk more than I should when I run!!

Do you have any running advice you would like to share?

I would like to provide a few suggestions for anyone that is new to running or wanting to get started.  Anyone can run with the willingness to get up and start moving.  Start by taking baby steps and progress will come.   If you don’t like running, find the activities you enjoy and incorporate them into your daily routine.  It may consist of starting with 5 – 10 minutes a day at first and may require setting a reminder to do it until it becomes a habit. When I started running, it wasn’t easy and there were many days where it hurt and I was tired from getting up early every morning because I had to make time for it.  In time, the results and benefits I gained have outweighed the hurt ten fold. 

In starting running, there are a few things I found most beneficial:

·         Start slow and build your endurance and be PATIENT

·         Get fitted for running/walking shoes at a local shoe store (Pacers & Racers, Ken Combs, Swags, Fleet Feet)

·         Find a friend/partner to hold you accountable and stay consistent; When I know someone else is depending on me to show up for a run, it’s much easier to get up and do the workout and so much more fun too. 

·         Run with people of different paces (someone to push you, someone that runs comparable paces, and someone that you can mentor); I’ve paced a few others (my sister, cousin, and friend) in three different marathons to qualify for Boston and these were some of my most memorable races.

·         Remember there is no one size fits all when it comes to training, nutrition, pace, and schedules…adjust according to your needs and take note of what works and didn’t work.

·         Don’t get caught up comparing yourself to everyone else. This can sometimes be hard but it is important to be the best YOU that you can be.  Growing up my mom always said, “Do the best you can and you will never be disappointed.” This has stuck with me throughout the years. We all have our own strengths and we can utilize them the best we can.

·         Make sure you are taking in enough nutrition that is balanced as you increase your intensity and volume (Myfitnesspal is a great app for helping with this); I learned this the hard way in my 2nd Marathon when I used to not eat beforehand. Lesson learned the hard way…please take my advice on this one!

·         Sign up for a few races to keep you in check with your training, provide motivation, and great way to meet new people

·         Take advantage of our beautiful parks throughout the city

·         With busy schedules make time for yourself, even if it requires you to step outside your comfort zone and do a morning run. This may consist of running while the kids are at practices, bringing the kids along on their bikes while you run, pushing the jogging stroller, or running during kids game warm-ups J

·         Life will throw you curveballs from time to time, use it to your advantage on race day.  It’s how we respond to the unexpected that helps us become stronger. You never know what might happen unexpectedly on race day (adverse weather conditions, delayed start, losing your nutrition, illness, etc,) but just like in life we do the best we can to adjust through adversity, get to the start line, adjust as needed, and finish.

·         Have a mantra or someone that inspires you on race day to keep you positive (maybe it’s smiley face on your arm, a charity, someone special who is fighting their own battle, thoughts of a hard training run you overcame, etc.)

·         Ask Questions…Everyday I am continuously learning from others (young, old, experienced, novice) about running and encourage others to do the same.  I myself still have so much more to learn!

·         Listen to your body…the older I get the better I have become about listening to and understanding my body. As runners we are a “little” stubborn at times, ok “a lot” stubborn, but it is so important to know when you need to rest and recover.  Rolling, stretching, and strength training are good aids for recovery and injury prevention too.

·         Take advantage of the wonderful running community we have. Locally there are so many groups that meet to workout and many are free too.  Whether you are new to running, just coming back to running, or want someone to do workouts with I have provided a link to website that was created listing several free workouts in the city of Louisville/ Southern Indiana:  http://www.runlouisvilleky.com (courtesy of Mike Garcia) click Calendar once on the website to see the full list. I’m sure this list is not all-inclusive and if there are others they could be added too!

Why do I like River City Races events?

I love running River City Races Events because they bring people together.  The races allow me to catch up with so many local runners that each have their own story to tell.  We all have our daily challenges, busy schedules, some good days and some not so good days, but through running we can come together to share a common bond.  It doesn’t matter ones age, pace, size, or gender, we all share the same love/passion for being active and living healthy lifestyles whether running or walking.  Each person has their own goal/reason for running, but we are all participating in the same event and will all encounter the same course and in the end, we will all finish across the same finish line no matter the time.  I consider the local running community family and I leave a race happy every time I meet someone new because I continue to learn so much from others.  The camaraderie within the running community is unbelievable. 

In addition to the unity these races bring, the races are run with integrity.   The responsiveness from the race director is always timely. I know that the volunteers, workers, and race director take pride in their work and want to make the race the best experience for all runners in the community.  They also care tremendously about the safety of the runners participating.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Running has not only helped me physically, but many days it is mental therapy.  It can turn a bad day around just by getting out in the fresh air or seeing a friendly face accompanied by a wave or smile on the run. In today’s busy and fast pace world, I feel we need to take a little time for our health (mental and physical).   

You never know what positive influence you may make in the life of another individual that day through running.  You may influence your children who look up to you and give them the confidence to do things they may have never imagined they could do, or a co-worker who needs to break away from their desk and a walk might be just what they need, or the individual you met at a race who just moved to the city and doesn’t know anyone but quickly becomes part of the community after joining others for a run.

In addition, if you have a goal, keep working to achieve it!  It may not come when you expect it to nor will it come easy, but it is a process.  When I was trying so hard to break 3 hours there was a quote that was shared with me and it really hit home.  That quote was  “Millions of people can believe in you, and yet, none of it matters if you don’t believe in yourself!” This is SO true and as I walked to the starting line of the 2015 Chicago marathon and a buddy of mine Danny Chester said “Woo, it must be a lot of pressure every time someone says sub 3 will be so easy for you given your training cycle.” During that moment, I did realize that my friends did believe in me and I needed to also.  Just by him acknowledging the pressure at hand and the fact that it wouldn’t be easy, it in turn relieved some of the pressure too. I was in a tremendous amount of pain the last 2 miles of that marathon as my toenail was jabbing into my foot every step of the way and it was warmer than it had been leading up to race day, but I kept thinking to myself I didn’t do all these tempo runs and bust my butt to give in now. The 3 hour pace group had caught me at mile 25 and I knew they were targeting 40 seconds under 3 hours so with every step I took, I continued to stay with them no matter what it took.  The pacer yelled, you are going to have to dig deep as I yelled back “I’m digging deep!” As I crossed the finish, a random girl who had also run and finished just ahead of me had on a shirt on that said “Woo Crew”, and of course, I had to get a picture with her! 

Happy Running to you all and so thankful everyday to be a part of this amazing running community!  There are days when I have anxiety about upcoming races or workouts, but when I see a familiar face it puts me at ease and that in itself is worth showing up for.  Hope you all develop lifelong amazing friendships, lessons learned, personal best, experiences, and memories that will last a lifetime through running too.  Also – in a race every time someone yells “woo” I pretend they are cheering for me because it’s my last name, but know that they are cheering for you too because we are all in this together! One step at a time …we got this! 

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NEW! Bi-Weekly Runner Spotlight & More

We're launching a blog! We've got a lot to say and surely someone wants to hear it! Ok...maybe not.  The purpose of our blog will be to share stories, training tips, answer questions and recognize runners that we think deserve to be in the spotlight!  Twice a month we'll be sending kudos to a local runner by letting them share their favorite things about running.  To submit a runner for a spotlight please email us at runrivercity@gmail.com