Twenty Four Marathons and Counting by Coach Albert Wieringa
On a cool October day fifteen years ago, I started running. I was 56 and it changed my life. I did not do it to lose weight or anything like that, more to see why other folks liked it. Curiosity so to speak. Had seen people huffing and puffing along the roads and wanted to find out what their secret was. On top of that, I’d seen an article in a runner’s magazine about moving your arms, which made me think there was more to it than I had imagined.
So I bought a pair of colorful sneakers and started early in the morning with a walk-run program. After 3 months it was more run than walk and I was able to keep going for 20 minutes without stopping. Signed up for a 5K (Gasparilla 2003) and got hooked. Ran more races, 10K, 15K, few half marathons, joined the WFYRC running club, made a lot of friends and 11 months later time for my first marathon. (NYC 2003) Nothing special but I finished!
After that, I increased my miles, added speed work and managed to get faster. Over the next years, 23 more marathons followed. Fastest was a 2:57:58 at age 59 in Amsterdam, Holland. A year later followed by a 2:58:00 at Disney. That was my first time at Lake Buena Vista and not my last one! Ran through the magic world of Mickey Mouse for a total of 5 times.
I really like this race. It's a fast course and above all, it has so much variation. Running through all the theme parks is great fun and the Disney characters plus the music and all the spectators that cheer for you make this marathon a fantastic event that never gets boring. Usually, during long races, I try to stay sharp by counting my steps from time to time or focus on other things, but at Disney, there is no time for that. Of course, some parts of the course are nicer than other sections but that’s just what keeps your mind busy and let the miles fly by.
The other major marathon on my favorites list is Boston. It’s a challenging course. Big crowds on narrow roads plus the hills in the second part make this a tough race. Anyway, went six times to Boston and won the age group twice. First time was 2012 when temperatures at the start reached 80 and at the finish 86. Still remember other runners who tried to hide in the tiny shade of a light pole while we were waiting for the start.
Second win was last year (2017), also a bit warm with average temps of 77.4. By throwing water over head and shoulders plus drinking lots of Gatorade I made it.
Luckily I was not the only runner from the Tampa Bay area that finished the race. One other athlete that I coached –and informed about heat issues and how to handle them – beat me by a couple of minutes. He even ran a PR on his first Boston, fantastic!
Coaching Other Runners
I do love coaching other runners to help them become better athletes. For the past 12 years I have been the track coach of the West Florida Y Runners Club (WFYRC.com). Once a week (Tuesday) we run on the rubberized track of Clearwater High School. I’m not standing there with a stopwatch and check everybody. No way. I’m one of them. That way I can keep an eye on the others and at the same time get my own workout in. Works great for all of us. A win-win situation.
WFYRC also offers a very nice and challenging loop of 13 miles that goes over 3 big bridges to Clearwater Beach, Sand Key and back over the Belleair Causeway. Start is on Saturday/Sunday-morning at Clearwater City Hall.
The club has made it possible for me to follow a coaching education. It took me about 10 years and a lot of lectures and study to reach the highest coaching level in the US and become a certified USATF level 3 as well as IAAF level 5 coach.
I also coach some individuals (between 15 and 65) who want to improve more. Run a faster 5k or qualify for Boston and reach their athletic potential. I like positive coaching; coming up with a smart training plan, leading by example, finding out what good points are in a runner, and of course, the not so good points. (We all have those) Try to correct –if possible. And of course, try to avoid injuries by dynamic stretching (before) and static stretching after a run. Also, check for imbalances (like leg length differences) and send them to medical professionals if necessary.
I try to stimulate others to run races. It’s the best way to improve yourself and to become a more efficient and experienced runner.
Oldest Running Club
The West Florida Y Runners Club is the oldest running club in the Tampa Bay area. WFYRC was founded in 1978 by six members of the local YMCA (which explains the ‘Y’ in the name). Membership is pretty steady between 250 and 300. The club initiates some club races every year.
We kick off the year with the ‘Discover Caladesi Island 10-miler’ (+ 5k) on February 17. This race starts at Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach and runs north over the beach all the way onto Caladesi Island to finish back at Pier 60. The race director is Michael Patterson.
Next are the Sunsets at Sand Key – summer series, a total of 4 races over 5k on hard packed sand of Sand Key. Tentative dates: June 8 June 22 July 13 and July 27.
Biggest club race is the ‘Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot’ on Thanksgiving Day (Nov 22) Actually, Turkey Trot consists of 4 races, a 5k, a 4k, a 1-miler and a 10k. Turnout is usually around 18.000 runners. It’s by far the biggest running event in Pinellas County.
The race director for the Summer series as well as Turkey Trot is Skip Rogers. He’s also the president of the club. Proceeds of the races are used for education. Last year the West Florida Y Runners Club gave away 20 scholarships of $2000 each to talented Pinellas High School seniors.