Pro runners go extra mile prior to Downtown Pittsburgh event
Jordan McNamara stood in front of dozens of Summer Dreamers Academy campers at Helen S. Faison Arts Academy in Homewood on Wednesday and asked a question.
“Who likes to run?” he asked, followed by, “Why do you like to run?”
Hands shot in the air.
One boy said because he was the fastest kid in the world. A girl said because it helps her build muscles. Another child said it keeps her energized.
Before long, McNamara and two other professional runners in town for Friday’s Liberty Mile race, Heather Kampf and Leo Manzano, were running through the grass with the kids. They jogged around the perimeter of the field, set up mini races and ended with some stretching and strengthening moves.
For the past five weeks, approximately 120 campers in the Pittsburgh Public Schools program have been training with a coach from the Liberty Mile in preparation for the race through the streets of Downtown on Friday. The Liberty Mile, in its third year, is produced by Pittsburgh Three Rivers Marathon Inc. A total of 1,200 runners competed last year.
McNamara, who has finished second at the Liberty Mile each of the past two years, said Pittsburgh is the only place where race organizers get the elite runners involved in the community at this level. The elite runners also visited campers at Langley K-8 on Thursday.
“There’s always some level of involvement with the race but in terms of going to kids’ elementary schools and all that, I think that’s different. It’s cool,” said McNamara, 25, of Eugene, Ore. “Liberty Mile is really the first race that takes the professionals and integrates them directly into the community at ground level, which I think is really special.”
Manzano, a two-time Olympian from Austin, Texas, told the children at Faison that he wasn’t the fastest runner when he started in the fifth or sixth grade, but he wanted to be the best. He talked about perseverance, and the importance of never giving up. Then he told them about racing in the 1,500 meters in the London Olympics in 2012.
He was in ninth place early in the race, he told them, and wanted to give up. He started thinking about his family and his community and started to pass other runners. With 100 meters to go he was in sixth place and ultimately won the silver medal with a time of 3:34.79.
“Not giving up is the important message,” Manzano, 29, said. “I feel like it applies a lot to life as well. Sometimes in a race you come across hills or mountains and you have to continue and push past those, but you know that eventually things will be better. You’ll be done and you’ll be celebrating.”
Kampf, 26, of Minneapolis had a similar message and told the story of when she fell during the Big Ten Indoor Championships in 2008 and went from last place to first in the 600 meters.
“Running is the ultimate blue-collar sport,” she said. “It’s just good, pure, hard effort.”
All three hoped to show the kids that while being a top runner takes hard work, running in general can be a sport they can enjoy their entire lives.
“A lot of these kids at this age, you can tell running is awful to them,” McNamara said. “For us to come in and introduce a little bit of seriousness, a little bit of inspiration but also playfulness and silliness, it makes it so they can associate running with fun and it will be something that they’ll want to do and enjoy.”