It’s been two years since Molly Stout last crossed the finish line on Boylston Street. The 33-year-old will be running her 20th marathon at the 120th Boston Marathon. She’s been running for many years, steadily dropping her marathon time by more than an hour, and is coming off a big PR of 3:14 at the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon.
Molly’s life revolves around running and healthy living. By day, she works as an analyst for Columbus Public Health and holds a Master’s degree in Public Health. She blogs at mollylstout.com and also recently started her own Etsy shop, Heart & Sole Running Co., selling running-themed printed quotes and greeting cards. Outside of running and marathon training, Molly lives outside of Columbus with her husband, Matt, and their adorable cats. On warm and sunny Saturdays, you can find her at the golf course with Matt or getting ready for her next long run.
With family in Hopkinton, Molly grew up watching the start of the race and knowing that one day she would be there too, running the historic race. She started running in elementary school and despite some injury setbacks in high school, she’s been running since. It hasn’t been an easy road to get there and took this dedicated runner several cracks at the marathon to nail her BQ. Molly and I have known each other for about five years as Twitter and Facebook friends and I’ve always been impressed by her dedication to training and the love and passion she has for the sport. She has been training hard for this year’s race and I was excited to talk with her about her running career and Boston!
I know you started running as a kid, what got you started? How old were you?
For as long as I can remember, I have been an athlete. Soccer, basketball and running were my first athletic pursuits. I was in first grade when I ran my first real track race. There was a Junior Olympics program in my town, and I vividly remember running my first 50-yard dash race and loving it! I still have my participant ribbon to prove my participation. I think I was motivated to try to run for a few reasons, one being that running was really well-supported in the town where I grew up. Our high school always had a strong track and cross country program, and the kids were encouraged to join the teams. There were no try-outs or cuts in the running world, if you wanted to be on the team you just showed up to practice. Also, I am the youngest of four, and my siblings are significantly older than me. I was in elementary school when I started running, while my siblings were in junior high and high school, and were members of the track and cross country teams.
What role does running play in your life now?
Running is my reset button, my personal time, a daily gift I give to myself. The open roads are where I do my best thinking, strategizing, and problem-solving. It’s where I challenge myself and gain confidence for challenges in the non-running areas of my life. There honestly have been some major challenges and tests I have had to face in my life, and every time I do, and I doubt myself initially, I just tell myself ‘Molly, you can do tough things, you run marathons for FUN!’
Running has added so much life to my days. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to truly understand my inner-workings, my preferences, what is a source of energy, and what things deplete me and running fills my cup like no other activity. Running is also the reason for so many of my greatest friendships. I have met some of the most incredible people in this world, just because of our shared love of the run.
When did you start running longer distances? What motivated you to start running marathons?
I surprisingly was a sprinter in 7th grade. I ran the 200m, 400m and various relays 4×400, 4×800. Basketball and volleyball were my two main sports at the time, but I did enjoy running on my own in the off seasons to get into shape. I decided since I didn’t play a spring sport, to join the track team. Once I entered high school, basketball was my life, I ran to stay in shape, but I was so intensely focused on hoops. I made the varsity basketball team as a freshman and honestly thought I would go on to play basketball in college. Well, life had other plans, and I endured a season-ending injury the second game of the season my freshman year! I completely tore my ACL, and suffered tears in my MCL and meniscus.
After enduring two surgeries and six months of physical therapy, my priorities changed a bit. Running was the first activity I was able to do in order to rehabilitate from my injury and my basketball coach actually encouraged anyone that wasn’t playing a fall sport to run cross country because we would come into the basketball season in great cardiovascular shape. I decided to take him up on the offer my junior year of high school, and the rest is history. After having a successful cross country season, I decided to join the track team and race in the distance events: the 800m, mile, and 2-mile, in addition to the 4×800 relay. The cross country and track coaching staff at my high school were some of the most incredible, motivating, and kindest individuals I’ve ever met. Cross country was the first experience I ever had with a coach that didn’t scream in your face when you made a mistake, they were full of love and encouragement, and actually ran with us instead of shouting orders at us from the sidelines.
Why Boston? What was the appeal of the race for you?
I’ve known about Boston literally my entire life. My family lived in Hopkinton, the town where the Boston Marathon begins, for a few years and there are photos and old 8mm videos of my family watching the start of this amazing race from the early 1980s. So I truly grew up just knowing about this incredible race.
When I graduated college and decided to give the marathon a go, I thought toeing the line in Hopkinton could certainly be a future possibility. This race holds so much rich history and it’s something you have to earn. You line up on race morning in Hopkinton with thousands of others who have put in so much time, effort, and tears to get there. It’s one of the most incredible celebrations in existence.
When did you feel like Boston was an attainable goal for you?
After my second marathon I knew I could qualify for Boston for sure. I hoped I could for that first marathon, but I honestly had no idea, but I had to give myself that shot.
For my first marathon I honestly had no clue what I was doing! I was coming off of my experience as a collegiate cross country runner, where you don’t eat or drink during races, let alone training runs. For my 20-milers, I honestly would run five miles from my house, turn around, run the five miles back, eat a Nutri Grain bar and take a swig of water, then go back out run another five miles and turn back and run the five miles back home. I didn’t eat or drink while running, no wonder I always felt like complete garbage on those runs and in my first marathon! I didn’t know about Gu, Body Glide, or non-cotton socks. Seriously I knew NOTHING.
Now, you’ve taken a lot of time off your first marathon time and been really successful at longer distances, what do you think is your secret to success?
My first marathon was the 2004 Columbus Marathon, I ran it in 4:25:27 and swore I would never run another marathon again, that the 5K was the distance for me! Well that attitude wore off after a few weeks and I decided I had some unfinished business. For my second marathon I ran Columbus again in 2005, with a little more knowledge under my belt, I learned about the importance of fueling and hydrating on the run, and I discovered necessities like Body Glide and sweat-wicking socks. I ran a 3:41:16. At the time the BQ standard for my age was 3:40:59, so I missed that by 17-seconds. I was heartbroken. But I wasn’t willing to give up on my Boston dream.
On my journey to the eventual BQ, I had some unlucky race conditions, ahem, 2007 Chicago Marathon where temps reached 88 degrees, I finished in 5:12:53 (when my goal was sub-3:40). The heat is my Achilles heel, I always run terribly if it is warmer than 60 degrees! I think my eventual faster times have come with discovering how my body responds to various weekly mileage totals, and most importantly, really figuring out my fueling strategy, both during the race and the days leading up to it.
I started following a strict vegan diet in 2009, and my overall energy levels, how I feel daily, and on my runs have all improved. I used to drink Gatorade as my hydration beverage of choice, but after experience multiple races with stomach cramping and nausea, I decided to explore other options. I now drink Nuun and water both before and during races, I use Gu and bananas and Picky Bars as my race morning breakfast. The dinner on race eve is brown rice, a baked sweet potato and plain bagel all with just salt and pepper. Just figuring out my stomach, and really experimenting the day and night before long runs, and using tune-up races before my goal races to practice the food situation, I believe that has made the greatest impact in my race times.
How do you fit running in with the rest of your life? What role have your friends and family played in your journey?
I schedule my runs like I would any other important meeting, like a doctor appointment or a work-related meeting. If it’s on my calendar, I’m committed to it. My husband is extremely supportive of my little running habit, which is key. He is an athlete himself, he has been a golfer his entire life, and still plays competitively. It dawned on me one day that it takes him just as long to play 18 holes of golf as it does for me to run a marathon, so we completely understand the need to devote time each day to our sports. I can’t imagine having a partner that wasn’t committed to an athletic pursuit like my running. My mom is my other biggest supporter. She was the mom who would be at every single cross country meet and would bring snacks for all of the runners.
What is your training like? Do you have a coach? What are your favorite marathon workouts?
Over the years I have tried various training plans. My first marathon training plan was downloaded from the Runner’s World website. I pulled from workouts I did in both high school and college and just tweaked them a bit to include an increased amount of miles. I self-coached until I ran my 3:24:55 at the NYC Marathon in 2011. After that I decided I wanted to seek the advice of a coach to help me get to the sub 3:20 milestone.
I’ve worked with Jessica Hofheimer, (Pace of Me), a dear friend, and a trusted coach and talented runner. She helped me get my first sub-3:20 at the Eugene Marathon (3:18:46 in 2013). She incorporates track workouts, tempo workouts, and marathon goal pace miles into my long runs. My favorite workouts are long runs. I live for the long run, truly! I also really enjoy ladder type workouts – like 800m, 1600m, 3200m, 1600m, 800m with 1:30 to 2:00 minutes rest. I also really, really like progression runs, where I practice starting conservative, and then work on getting faster each mile to where my final mile is MGP or faster.
What is the best piece of running advice you’ve ever received?
“Garbage in, garbage out” – my high school coach. Basically he was saying that what we put into our bodies is just as important as the workouts themselves. If we are fueling horribly, then we should expect poor results.
“Molly, remember, today is somebody’s Boston” – my mom. She told me this when I was being a little nonchalant about a race I was running. It was an incredible reminder to be grateful for every opportunity I get to run, because it’s a gift, and to never take my running and racing for granted. And to be humble about my running achievements, that it may just be a workout or a tune-up race for me, but someone else on that start line that could be the race of their life that they’ve been training for. I seriously tell myself this nugget of advice at least once a week, it’s such a great life lesson even outside of running.
If you could give one piece of running advice to our readers, what would it be and why?
Enjoy yourself! This is supposed to be fun. If it’s not fun, you’re missing the entire point. Some days are going to be hard, some days you will feel like crap, and that’s okay, but if the majority of your runs are enjoyable, well that’s something special. Hold onto that, this world is full of so much negativity and disappointment, but running, it’s one of life’s greatest and purest gifts.
Thanks Molly for taking the time to talk to me! We can’t wait to cheer you on at Boston this year!