Sunglass Warehouse is a brand for people who live life to the fullest. Our customers are just normal people, but they know how to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, and turn everyday experiences into great adventures. SW: Profiles is an interview blog series that shares these unique stories about our customers. From a tattoo shop owner directing horror films, to a young tech professional searching for his Jewish roots, these seemingly different people share a common thread that we’ll uncover together.
To run a marathon is an extraordinary feat. To run a marathon in every state is beyond extraordinary, and this is exactly what marathon runner Sarah Hilmer aims to accomplish. From competing at 20 weeks pregnant to conquering 13 marathons in 10 states, Sarah is all about getting out there! As soon as I learned of Sarah’s goal of running a marathon in every state, I knew I wanted to hear more.
Sarah gave us a look at the experiences she’s had while running in addition to sharing some of the lessons she’s learned along the way. Don’t be surprised when you have the sudden urge to log some miles yourself.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
First and foremost, I’m a wife, a mom, and a dog-mom. I’m always looking for an adventure, and you can usually find me running, skiing or hiking. Fortunately, my husband (Ben), daughter (Annie) and dog (Hans), are always up for an adventure, too!
I recently moved from the Midwest to Belmont, California, near San Francisco. I really enjoy living and playing in California, where year-round Farmer’s Markets make it easy to eat and cook locally, and where it’s easy to take a weekend trip to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite or somewhere along the Pacific Ocean. On any given weekday, you’ll find the dog and I logging trail miles at our local park, called Water Dog (how fitting). I’m also a part of team Oiselle Volée, a national running group dedicated to empowering women of all ages and backgrounds to run and compete.
In my professional life, I manage communications and public relations for a startup in the Silicon Valley called BetterWorks, and run a small but mighty writing business, Sarah Hilmer Creative.
Tell us about your goal of running a marathon in every state–what inspired you to pursue this goal?
This is a great question- and I can tell you about the exact moment when I decided I wanted to achieve the goal of running a marathon in each state. I was running my very first marathon and coming up on the famous “wall,” a state that you sometimes hit during a marathon where it physically and mentally feels as though you can’t take another step. An elderly man came alongside me and encouraged me to power through, and through a brief exchange of words (mostly his words because I could barely breathe, let alone talk), he told me that after finishing the race he’d achieve his lifelong goal of running a marathon in each state. It took me all of about 10 seconds to realize I wanted to be just like this man, and combine my passion for adventuring to new parts of the country with my love for running. I want to be an 80 year old lady finally checking that final 26.2 miles off her list!
How old were you when you got started running marathons?
I started running marathons during my freshman year in Purdue. I had run cross country in high school and wanted to set an ambitious goal so I could stay in shape and avoid the typical freshman 15. It didn’t take me long to get hooked!
How many states have you ran marathons in? Do you have a favorite race?
I have ran 13 marathons in 10 states, which is actually monumental because once you hit ten, you can join the official “50 states club!” Turns out there are 4, 241 other people who have the same goal as me and have already ran in 10 different states.
My favorite race has to be the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. Not only is it my hometown race, but it’s where I qualified for the Boston Marathon with a time of 3:34:53 (my personal best).
Where would your dream race be?
I cannot wait to run the Eugene Marathon in Eugene, Oregon. Many professional runners, including some of my running idols, train and run there. Due to my pregnancy and making a gradual comeback to running, I had to skip it for 2017, but it’s on my marathon list for 2018.
What’s the hardest race you’ve ran in?
The hardest race I’ve ran was the Western Pacific Marathon in Fremont, California, only because I was about 20 weeks pregnant! I had to really take it easy and give myself ample water and bathroom breaks. It was a mental challenge for me to be okay with slowing down and running for fun, instead of running to race.
Marathons can be pretty intimidating. How do you handle pre race nerves?
Maybe I’m an anomaly, but I don’t get too nervous before races. I have my pre-race breakfast down– two pieces of wheat toast with butter AND avocado and sea salt, and a banana. I think I get more nervous about a week out from the race, knowing that the upcoming race hinges on all the training I’ve put in, and there’s not a whole lot I can do to change the past months of work. Ultimately, I love the adrenaline rush of race day– gives me an energy boost!
How do you feel before a marathon now vs. how you felt before running your very first marathon?
This is a great question and I can’t help but relate it to pregnancy and giving birth. Now that I know what it’s like to have a baby, I’m ready to do it again and not scared of it. I know what a marathon’s like. I know it’s going to be tough and feel like eternity and that my knees might hurt and I might really regret my decision to race come mile 22. But when it’s all said and done, it’s always worth it!
What does your training process look like? How do you stay motivated?
There are two staple runs for me in every week: the weekend long run, and a weekday speed workout. The rest of the days are filling with fun, easier runs. I find that as long as I’m dedicated to these two weekly runs, the rest falls into place.
I’m naturally motivated to run regularly, because it makes me feel healthier, and helps me clear my head. Staying motivated to train for marathons, however, is sometimes daunting because it takes a lot of time (which I seem to have much less of with a 9 month old). Lately, finding time to run is the biggest challenge. Sometimes that means waking up at 6am to run, or pushing a stroller with Annie up some hills. Other times, it means squeezing in lots of miles in on the weekends, and not a lot in during the week. I try not to feel discouraged if I can’t squeeze in a run on any given day. I think staying flexible and seeing the big picture keeps me motivated.
Any unique stories from races you’ve ran?
My husband is my #1 fan, and he’s probably better at watching marathons than anyone I know. At one race in particular, he literally saw me 21 different times. By the 19th time, I had to actually tell him to slow down his spectating game because I needed to focus!
What tips would you give to first-time marathon runners?
Three tips for first-time marathon runners!
- Find a buddy. For me, that’s my Weimaraner, Hans. We log about 30-50 miles a week together, depending on my training cycle. I also meet up with friends to run. Doing all your miles alone gets really boring, really fast.
- Do speedwork. You don’t have to be a fast runner to do speedwork, but if you add it into your training, you’ll get so much out of it! I was the assistant cross country and track & field coach at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, and spent a few years doing multiple speed workouts a week with the high school students. Ultimately, these workouts helped me inch closer to my Boston qualifier time. If you aren’t sure where to start, all you need is a track or some way to track your distance and time. Start with something as simple as a 5 minute warm up, then pick up the pace for a minute. Back off and run easy for 2 minutes and cycle through that pattern a few more times. You can work up to track workouts, like 800 meter repeats for example. Any interval or speed training you do will immensely help your aerobic capabilities and mental game!
- Get religious about your long run. Maybe this is actually my pet peeve. Sometimes I hear people boasting at the start line of races that they “didn’t even train,” or “haven’t done a long run in weeks!” You can certainly run a marathon this way, but there’s no way it will be enjoyable. If you just commit to that weekend long run, race day will go a whole lot smoother.