By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
PLEASANT HILL, Ill. -- Kathy Eatock makes two things clear about running marathons.
"If you are running a marathon, it is 26.2 miles, no matter where it is," the Pleasant Hill woman said.
And that two-tenths of a mile is significant.
"People comment about it being 26 miles. No, it's 26.2," Eatock said. "After you ran 26 miles, 0.2 is just short of a quarter-mile. That's a long way. If you're convinced, 'Oh, I'm done. I'm going to round this corner and be done,' then look out and you've still got a quarter-mile to go, you have problems. It's all mental."
Eatock has focused on the mental and physical aspects of distance running since 2004, wearing out a pair of shoes every 500 miles or about every six months.
"Do I see myself quitting? I'm sure someday, but it's going to be because I have to, because I have no other choice, not because I want to," she said.
Eatock was already walking but not losing weight when a friend suggested she try running.
"I started running and did my first 5K four months later," she said. "I went and watched the 2004 Chicago Marathon and decided if they can do that, so can I. I've been addicted ever since."
She runs 5K, 10K and 10-mile races and relays across the region, and she organized a 5K run to benefit the Pleasant Hill High School track team. And she runs marathons each year in Chicago in October and Little Rock, Ark., in March.
"Chicago just because it's close, flat and supposed to be easy," she said. "I did Little Rock for the bling. They advertise they have the biggest finisher's medal. I had run the half several times, then I decided I wanted the big medal."
After bringing home her first medal from Arkansas, Eatock called her brother, Jerry Davis, in Colorado to share the news. He suggested her next challenge: Pike's Peak.
To participate, runners must finish a marathon within a certain time and finish the Pike Peak's Ascent in a qualifying time. She finished the ascent the first time she tried in 2010 but couldn't go back the next year for the marathon. She went back in August hoping to do better before running the full marathon and conquer what's known as the 16 golden stairs, or what Eatock calls boulders. But she didn't finish.
"I have to requalify," she said.
Eatock modifies her training to prepare for the altitude. Organizers suggest wearing a dust mask to reduce oxygen intake while running on a treadmill at an 11 percent incline.
"I hate treadmills," Eatock said. "I try to run outside as much as possible, so I pick a hill and use a dust mask."
The rest of the year, she runs on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and then either Saturday or Sunday. She also does a core workout and rides a bike, if possible outside, to reach her goal of running a marathon in five hours or less.
But don't make her run laps like she had to in high school track.
"Put me on a track and tell me I have to run a lap, I'm done. Put me outside and say run a mile, I'm OK," Eatock said. "I train to 20 (miles). The last six is race day magic. If you've already put in 20 miles, you're going to finish the last six even if you have to walk them."
Even on days when she doesn't feel like running, she tries to go a mile.
"By the time I hit a half-mile, I can go ahead and do it," said Eatock, a claims technician for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois in Quincy. "The only thing I do alter a lot with how I'm feeling is my pace. If I'm having a good day, I may pick the pace up. If I'm having a bad day, it may become an easy run all of a sudden. I may still get my mileage in, but I don't push myself for the pace."
Most days find her running along Ill. 96.
"I run to Atlas or run to Rockport. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I do a loop that I know gets me the miles I want," she said.
Area drivers share the road but still keep an eye on Eatock.
"People drive by, then say I was going to ask if you were OK, but you were moving," she said. "As long as I'm moving, I'm fine. If you see me on the side of the road and I'm not moving, stop."
Eatock has no desire to run marathons in all 50 states or even the well-known Boston and New York events.
“If I had the opportunity, I’d run Hawaii. There’s one in Vermont I think would be nice,” Eatock said. “I want to do the Flying Pig. I want to earn my wings. That’s the Cincinnati Flying Pig.”
Wherever Eatock runs, she follows some basic training rules, including:
• Cotton is rotten for runners. “If you wear cotton, you’re going to pay for it,” she said.
• Don’t try anything new the day of the run.
• Always have a “taper week” before a run, backing off on mileage to give your body a chance to recover.
• Mentally break down long runs into small segments.
• Use the electronics, such as music, but sometimes leave them at home.
“There’s some runs you have to run ‘naked’ and leave all the electronics at home and just run.
Listen to your own footsteps, your own breathing and to Mother Nature,” she said. “I just put my shoes on and basically went out on a date with my shoes.”