Dewhirst began running to get away; organizes MAYC Run to bring people together


*photo by Matt Difanis

Life on the run is an apt description for many people.

It was particularly fitting for Mahomet’s Marla Dewhirst, a working mom who was constantly juggling and coordinating schedules.

The hectic pace didn’t slow once she actually started running.

A frequent competitor in the Mahomet Half-Marathon, Dewhirst’s participation has recently shifted from runner to organizer.

Each of the past four years, she has taken on more of the administrative load needed to continue the smooth event that annually attracts nearly 600 runners for either the half-marathon, 10-kilometer or 5-kilometer races.

Dewhirst is learning on the go.

“I’d run a lot of races, but never organized a race,” she said. “The back end of the race is so big.

“Four years ago, I watched (Gary Matthews, who oversaw the race for nearly two decades). Three years ago, I did some (work). Two years ago, I tried to do it.”

And now, in the days leading up to the 23rd year of the fundraising event for the Mahomet Area Youth Club, she is the person providing leadership and direction, though she is surrounded by a capable group of assistants.

“We have amazing volunteers that bring the community together,” she said.

Registration is still ongoing for the races that will be held at 7 a.m. on Aug. 4, starting and ending at the high school.

Although Dewhirst said, “I was physically active,” as a former physical education and elementary education teacher, running wasn’t a part of her lifestyle until after her 50th birthday.

Since then she has run nine full marathons and plans to add to that list.

She didn’t turn to running as a Bucket List item, but as an escape.


“I put the shoes on and was going as far as I could go,” Dewhirst said. “I was going to run away.

“I had not found an answer to deal with the hole in my heart.”

The void occurred in April, 2001, when her 14-year-old daughter, Anna, died in an automobile accident. Anna Dewhirst was a freshman at Mahomet-Seymour High School.

Marla Dewhirst tried the obvious coping mechanisms.

“I threw myself into work,” she said.

She also sought the counsel of therapists.

Quite by accident, Marla Dewhirst discovered the benefits of frequent, short runs, which served as a replacement behavior for the time she spent in tears.

“Almost every three hours, I’d cry until I re-set,” she said. “When I ran until I couldn’t run anymore, I felt like I did after crying, and it was more acceptable.”

Working in Rantoul at the time, she cleared time with her boss to take 10-minute breaks at 10 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. to run at a nearby track.

It helped, she said, “to stabilize my emotional life. If I ran, it was a better option than crying.”

Dewhirst wasn’t officially in training — “I ran to escape,” she emphasized — but a by-product of the workouts that occurred four or five times a day was that it served as interval training.

In the fall of 2001, Marla Dewhirst ran the 5K race in the Mahomet Half-Marathon event.

The following spring, she entered the 10K at Champaign’s Christie Clinic Marathon and won her age group.

That fall — in her first half-marathon — she placed second in her age group at Mahomet.

By 2006, she was conditioned enough that she ran the Boston and New York marathons in the same year.

“I kept running and kept running,” she said.

She derives as much pleasure and satisfaction in her fun runs as she does while in race mode.

“When you run, you run everywhere,” she said. “Missoula, Mont. Columbus, Ohio.

“You see the world eye-to-eye and I love that. You get out in the community, on park trails or along rivers that if you were just traveling, you would not see.

“I find running relaxing, personal and quiet. My mind goes to a rhythmic pattern.”

Dewhirst takes note of her surroundings.

“In Montana, I found myself at the corner of Winnie and Bridle, and thought, ‘where else but in the wild west,’ “ she said.

On a recent jaunt through Lake of the Woods, “I saw monarch eggs on milkweed plants and black raspberries that had been picked,” she said.

She doesn’t plan to curtail her running, but may not enter as many races.

“I have seven grandchildren, five who live locally, and it’s hard to go out on a 4-hour run,” Dewhirst said.

She also recognizes that her best times — the numbers that show up on the results sheets — may be behind her.

“It’s harder for older runners,” she said. “You’re working as hard, but you don’t get the same results.

“You keep getting slower.”

Dewhirst is grateful that she found running during the period she sought to deal with the passing of a child.

“We made it,” she said. “So many people don’t.

“I can’t say running will work for others, but it saved me.”

She won’t mind being on the sidelines when the next races in the Mahomet Half-Marathon are held in less than a month.

The key, she said, is to continue to promote and extol the virtues of the event.

Other community’s races cover neighborhoods. Mahomet’s is more unique.

“We run between the corn and beans,” Dewhirst said. “We’re a good training run, a good fast run.

“It’s a pretty flat course in the country. We have age brackets for every five years. There are a lot of winners.”

The entry fee for the half-marathon was $40 for early registrants and stands at $45 through July 15 and then goes to $50 until Race Day.

“Our goal is to try and get people to sign up early,” Dewhirst said.

The current fees for the 10K ($40) and 5K ($30) will also increase by $5 each after July 15.

“The half-marathon is a limited audience,” Dewhirst said. “To be viable, we have to build the 5K as a run that anybody can do.

“Champaign’s race is for profit. We’re for a cause (MAYC) and there are only two fundraisers. This is an all-call to the community.”

Early feedback is encouraging.

“We’re on the way to a record amount for sponsorships,” Dewhirst said.

More information about the races — which includes a 1-mile Friday (Aug. 3) Fun Run — can be found at www.runmahomet.com.


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