Carol Hughes is a runner, which is somewhat astonishing to those who knew her back in the day, herself included. She might have competed as a high school long jumper, but sprinting to leap into a sand pit was the extent of her putting one foot in front of the other for any sustained length of time.
“Never really ran – didn’t much like it,” admits Hughes, who is a librarian at Berry Elementary in east Arlington.
Her sister was a runner, so Hughes tried a 5K. Went out too fast and thought she’d drop dead right then and there. It only reminded her of why she didn’t run.
How things have changed.
Late last year, Hughes ran 26.2 miles in the Philadelphia Marathon. It was her first marathon in Philadelphia, but her 50th overall.
“I don’t usually tell people about this because they are usually like, ‘uh, yeah, sure you did,’” she says, laughing.
We get it. Running for hours seems undoable; returning 49 times is downright insane.
Yet so is covering 100 miles in 32 hours, which Hughes has done as well.
Why, I ask.
Hughes: “Love the feeling of accomplishment.”
Like climbing Mount Everest? Leaping out of an airplane?
“Around age 52, about 10 years ago, I was getting to that age where you start to put on weight, and told myself that I needed to do something about it,” Hughes says.
Walking short distances turned into walking longer distances, which turned into 5K walk/runs.
“I thought, gee, if I can run a 5K, I wonder if I can do a 10k?” she says. “After the 10K, I said, gee, if I can do a 10K …”
You get the idea.
For Hughes, running “is this feeling that I can do more than I think I can do.”
It’s a philosophy that boils over to her students at Berry.
“I use my own running experiences to get them to stretch themselves,” Hughes explains. “Like reading chapter books. I tell them the more you practice reading or doing anything, really, the more you will see as far as results go. It’s the same philosophy.”
You build a work ethic, results come.
Hughes is like a walking bulletin board for accomplishment. She has a Master’s in Library and Information Studies at the University of Oklahoma and is a twice-certified National Board-Certified teacher,
For her, it’s about perseverance.
Like running a marathon that will take up to three or four hours for the average runner (not the elites who cross the finish line at two hours plus). Hughes is a “rear” runner, which means she starts slow and catches a bunch of folks along the way, many of whom she chats with while running.
It’s the teacher in her, of course. Many runners she sees on the course are doing the race for the first time. She gives them real-time tips (slow down a bit, refuel at the hydration stations, enjoy the scenery).
“It’s exactly like a car with fuel,” Hughes says of hitting the hydration stations. “When you run out of fuel, you stop. I advise people to watch your nutrition. Run together. Try and make it fun so you’re not thinking too much about being tired.”
Philadelphia was her first marathon in three years; many races just opened up this year after COVID-related cancellations. She wasn’t sure how it would go after such a long hiatus, but one thing is for sure: the running bug is back.
“I’m already looking at running in South Carolina in the spring,” she says.
How far she’s come.
“I’m not an Olympic runner, I’m not an elite runner,” she says. “I do it for the joy of it. It makes me happy.”