Only Half (13.1) Crazy: Journey of Four Non-Traditional Runners

Brenda Shamblin, Mandy Wanzek, Kathy Johnson and I were all acquaintances, and we have become very close friends over the past four years. Our journey started in 2012 when we met at Moms on the Run, a running group for moms of varying fitness levels. The program’s support system of coach and team community has been life-changing for many moms who said, “I couldn’t run around the block,” and are now running half marathons. This was true for us, and our group catapulted us into a world where we didn’t think we belonged. 


Last year, we decided to set a lofty goal. We signed up for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Las Vegas, Nevada. We followed the Hal Higdon training plan for half marathon training. We did short runs during the week and long runs on the weekend. Time constraints were definitely the biggest challenge for us. We are all working moms, and carving out the time for training was difficult. We ran three mornings a week at 5:30 a.m. It wasn’t easy, but I can speak for all of us when I say it was well worth it.

We arrived in Las Vegas with a mixture of nervous anticipation and newfound confidence. Before the marathon, there was a large expo with various race sponsor booths. At the Toyota booth, you could sit in a car, and record inspiring messages. We got to watch the messages while running along the route, which was really awesome. 

We wore buttons that explained why we were running. We all had different reasons, but mostly we wanted to run for the people who couldn’t. Kathy lost her boyfriend, Jeff Gravon, to cancer, and she had promised him before he died that she would run a half marathon. For her, the race took on a personal goal of fulfilling that promise. 

The Las Vegas strip was completely closed down, and people were cheering in front of all the beautiful hotels. Bands along the route kept us distracted from what we were doing. From the volunteers to the police presence, everyone was encouraging and kind. Some of the proceeds of the race went to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. We met people who were pushing kids with cancer in strollers. One fellow runner was being treated for stage four breast cancer. The stories were so inspiring and fueled our energy as we ran the race.


We have met wonderful people on this journey. We have walking friends along West River Parkway, Betsy and Alison, who cheered for us and encouraged us every morning we were out there training. The staff at Hy-Vee North call us the crazy ladies with the dog. 

On our birthdays after our run, we each get a coffee and split a donut four ways. The ladies in the bakery say we are the only ones who ever make that request. Our friendships have grown through this journey. We have held each other up through some stressful life experiences. Running certainly helps cope with the curve balls life throws at us. We have learned the running community is full of positive, motivated people, and it has been great to be a part of it.

This experience definitely stretched all of us beyond what we ever thought we could do. It has been empowering and has opened our eyes to new experiences. All of us would say don’t wait until you’re the perfect weight or in the best shape to do something like this. We are not what you would call your “typical” runners. Don’t wait or think about it too much. Your body can do amazing things right where you are at. So dream big, work hard, have fun and reap the rewards that come from accomplishing your goals, even the ones you thought were impossible.

Stephanie Sawyer is a wife and mom and works at Sunset Terrace Elementary School.