The Marathon Nurse

It seemed to be a simple way to get fit--tie on some running shoes and go.

Eighteen years ago, running worked well with Beth Henriksen's busy schedule as a nurse and mother of three. Exercise classes were too difficult to fit into her kids' schedules-between after-school sports and weekend lessons. "I figured if I wanted to work and if I had three children, I could run while they practiced," Henriksen says.

Giving Back

From that modest start, a marathon runner was born. And today, she wants to help others experience the joys of distance running by co-chairing for the third year the annual Mary Greeley Hope Run for Hospice, taking place this year on Saturday, June 19. Participants can choose either a 5K or 10K run, which raises money for the Israel Family Hospice House.

"Most runners reach a point where they want to give back," says Henriksen. "And there is a core group of runners who say, ‘I'll help you with your race if you help me with mine.'" Henriksen also volunteers with The Iowa Games cross country event, the local Run for the Roses arthritis fundraiser, Midnight Madness, and Four on the Fourth-a local 4-mile and 4K run at Ada Hayden Park to raise money for the Friendship Ark, an Ames home for people with developmental disabilities.

Making Time

"You meet a lot of people running, so a lot of my friends are runners," Henriksen says. Runners also love to run as a group, and Henriksen has been a member of the Ames Area Running Club and Team Vardo, a local group.

Henriksen ran the half-mile and mile as a member of the track team at her Ogden, Iowa high school. When she graduated and got
married, however, she "basically didn't do anything for 17 years."

In the ‘80s, she participated in aerobics to help alleviate stress but the class times conflicted with her children's active schedules. So when her kids went off to soccer and other practices, she'd sneak in a quick workout.

"I'd give them a gym bag with their stuff in it and a key in the pocket so they could get back into the car if they needed to," Henriksen says. "Then I'd run a half-mile out, come back, check on them, run another half-mile out, come back, check on them." She'd manage to squeeze in a 2-mile run with each practice.

A Growing Addiction

Her daily distances grew (she now averages 6 to 7 miles a day) and she started entering 5K races. In her second race, she placed in her age group and was encouraged to continue competing.

Now she's completed 36 marathons, along with numerous 5K and 10K races, often traveling for combination vacations/marathon runs. She's completed the Boston Marathon five times, and her latest marathon took place in January in Phoenix, where she could soak up sunshine and take on the challenge of competition.

Family vacations include marathons, an indication to Henriksen that she's developed a healthy addiction to competitive running.

"It's ‘me' time," says Henriksen. As a mother, a wife and a nurse, she devotes most of her day to helping others. Running provides an opportunity to do something solely for herself, though lately it's also been a great excuse to exercise her new running buddy, a one-year-old pug-beagle mix, Nala.

"Nala has affected my running a lot, but she doesn't always affect my running for the better," Henriksen says, laughing. "With a dog, you have to stop and start a lot for the pee and the poop."

Running also helps Henriksen maintain excellent health. Her blood pressure and cholesterol are both at healthy levels. And her appearance mimics that of an ideal distance runner: small-boned, compact and very lean. "I never thought that I had that great an addiction to running until one day on vacation, I'd been playing some games with the kids, and I thought I was pretty relaxed," Henriksen says. "And my husband, Tom, said, ‘Tomorrow, we'll find you a place to run.'"

Henriksen assured him that she felt fine and very relaxed. "But apparently I wasn't as relaxed as I thought I was because he just said, "No, really. Tomorrow we'll find you a place to run," Henriksen says, laughing.

Henriksen realizes she's fortunate to continue to run into her 50s, an age when most runners have been sidelined by injuries. There have been a few very minor injuries, including a pulled hamstring during a race. "Basically, I've been lucky," Henriksen says. "I'm blessed with good genetics. I have good knees, good hips, and decent feet. And I have good cartilage."

Henriksen plans to run for years to come. Next year, when she turns 55, "I get to go into the next age group in races. It makes you actually look forward to getting older."