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Strider Spotlight: Maura Ward Szendey

Robin Condon  | Published on 11/30/2020
Introducing Maura Ward Szendey!  I'm sure all or most of you Striders have met Maura and if you haven't I hope you get the opportunity to. I've only known Maura a few years yet since we've met she's truly been an inspiration. I asked Maura how and when she found her passion for running to which she replied:

"I started running in college toward the end of my sophomore year (did a little bit of running freshman year but it didn't stick)-mostly as I wanted to avoid regaining the freshman15." Now we all worry about gaining the Covid 19 right?  "A friend of mine and I would meet early in the morning and run 2 miles around campus.  I continued over the summer gradually increasing mileage.  My junior year I had decided to go out for cross country and track - it was fun but definitely a higher level than I was at!"

"I've been running on and off since then, depending on what was going on with life:  I did a lot of road races (5 miles and 10k's) in my early 30's but then cut way back after the girls came along, just getting out for an occasional loop through the neighborhood and maybe a 5k here and there.  I started running a lot more after the girls were in college, and adding other workouts as well (strength training).  I ran my first 10k in 25 years in 2015 and then a friend convinced me to sign up for a half marathon 10 weeks later, and I totally fell in love with that distance.  I never planned to run a marathon. Funny how that changes."

When asked about the 261 Fearless Running club in Andover she explained to us about what the club is and how she started it.

"I met Kathrine Switzer at the expo for the Marine Corps Marathon and while I was waiting in line, I was chatting with a woman who was very involved with 261 Fearless, so I learned a little about it. The organization focuses on empowering women through non competitive social running.  It's one hour/week where women get to run and work on running form and running strength - and having fun.  I loved the idea of it because when I got back into running, I wasn't comfortable joining a club like MVS for the longest time because I didn't think I was a 'good enough' runner.  And I also love that it's a global organization - I got a chance to meet a lot of members when we went to Berlin for the Berlin marathon."

Maura and Kathrine Switzer

Maura and Kathrine Switzer

Not only is she passionate about running, but she also places in her age group in many races.  We asked her to share some of her other accomplishments, including how many marathons she has completed.

"I've had the advantage of aging up last December, so this year I've had a couple of age group wins: the Hangover Classic on January 1st and most recently at the Ocean State Marathon.  Compared to so many other MVSers, I'm such a marathon newbie.  I've run 5 live marathons + Boston virtual.  My first one was Chicago 2017 - because it was the same weekend as my college reunion so I was going to be in Chicago anyway (spoiler alert - reunions and marathons don't go well together). I've also run Boston, Marine Corps, Berlin and most recently, Ocean State - which was by far the smallest I've run and the prettiest course.  I've gotten stronger and faster with each marathon, so I'm doing  something right!"

"The biggest piece of advice in preparing for a marathon:
  • Don't compare your training to what others are doing.  Follow your plan and trust it.  There are so many different approaches.
  • Keep your easy runs easy - and that's most of your runs.
  • Take your rest days - they're such an important part of the plan"
Despite all her accomplishments, she continues to set new running goals which she outlined to us:

"My big goal was breaking 4 hours in a marathon - which I did at Ocean State.  I do want to keep getting stronger/faster and seeing what else I can do.  Other goals include:
  • Finishing the streets in Andover and completing the Street Ferret Challenge (I'm at 95% right now)
  • Staying healthy and injury free so I can run as long as possible.
  • Visiting all 62 national parks (we've been to 16 so far)
  • Hiking the 48 4,000 footers in NH (we've done 13)
  • Running a half or marathon in each of the 50 states (ideally combining with a national park visit) - 7 so far, so a long way to go!  I'm currently registered for the Northeast Kingdom Marathon in VT this coming May.  In addition to checking off Vermont, I'll get to share the first loop of the course with Olivia (for her first half) and Andrew."

We then asked her to tell us why MVS is her favorite running club out of the many she is a member of (at least I hope it is).

"I love MVS.  It took me about 10 years to join because I didn't think I was a 'good enough' runner - everyone looked so hard core!  But joining MVS opened the door to so many opportunities - like running Boston, getting involved in Feaster Five etc., and meeting great people. And participating in track has made me a stronger runner."

Lastly, we inquired what gets her out there even on the worst days?  We all know the struggle of lacking motivation, including as dedicated runners as Maura, yet she gave us insight as to what keeps her going:

"Two things: I give myself 20 minutes and by then I'm into the run and my mindset has changed. And you never know what it's going to be like on race day, so it's important to prepare for anything." 

"My MVS involvement - it's primarily around Feaster Five.  I've shared responsibility for the MVS table at the expo for the past few years (well not this year), and most recently have been co-leading the Couch to 5k program."