On Oct. 7, Stephanie Pezzullo ran 2:32:42 in her marathon debut at Chicago. That’s especially strong for someone who has only been running competitively for about six years and nearly walked away from the sport in 2007 after shattering an ankle while hitting one of the wooden barriers during a 3,000-meter steeplechase race. Furthermore, “Pezz” was a soccer player at Penn State and later played on a semi-pro team in Charlotte, N.C. She didn’t really start training as a runner until ZAP Fitness coach Pete Rea discovered her and invited her to train under his tutelage in 2006. After massive rehab and physical therapy from the injury, she made a complete comeback and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 3,000-meter steeplechase last summer (her fourth time qualifying for nationals), but opted not to race in Eugene, Ore., in lieu of ramping up to a half-marathon. Coached by Mark Hadley, Pezzullo, 30, lives and trains in Charlotte, N.C., and is part of Newton Running’s Team Alchemy. She’s running the Philadelphia Half Marathon on Sunday. Check out her latest blog post here.
Why did you decide not to run in the Olympic Trials?
There’s such a big difference between being top three and top 10. I had made the finals two years in a row at USATF nationals, but I didn’t think I had a good, reasonable chance to be top three and going to the Olympics. So I forfeited that and decided to run the half-marathon national championships in Minnesota instead. [She was ninth in 1:13:42.] After that, I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll give the marathon a shot.’ I wasn’t thinking I could run 2:32 right of the bat because I was still training for the steeplechase just four months ago. But I’m glad I ran it because it went pretty well. I don’t think 2:32 is that big of a deal in the running world because it hasn’t done much for me, but it was fun and I’d like to do another one because I think I can run faster.
How did adjust your training from short track events to the marathon?
Once I started to focus on the half, I was up to 80 to 90 miles pretty consistently and then for marathon I hit 100-105 for five weeks. My coach had no problems trying to beat me up. I’m a soccer player and not the most dainty of runners. His goal was to up my mileage and stick to two hard workouts a week and a long run. The training went great, even though I train by myself a lot. There are a couple of guys who I train with, but I don’t mind torturing myself alone either. It’s all about mind games. One mile at a time, one step at a time.
When you were rehabbing in 2008 and 2009, did you ever think about quitting?
That’s where it came back to my faith. I had a million and one people telling me to quit running. Doctors, friends, everybody. I had total reconstruction surgery. I don’t even have my own bone in there. It’s a fake bone. So there were a lot of naysayers, a lot of people who were saying I should give up. I’m just so glad that I didn’t even listen to them. I would just kind of pray about it and put it in God’s hands and one thing led to another and I made it back. Physical therapist and gait guru Jay Dicharry was a huge, huge help to me at the UVA Speed clinic. [Dicharry is now at Rebound Physical Therapy in Bend, Ore.] I learned a whole different kind of running form because of him. He helped me to get back on track with exercises and drills that I still do three to four times every week, and I haven’t missed a race or a workout since.
What can you tell other runners about running the marathon?
This is going to sound kind of crazy, but one of my biggest doubts for considering to not run a marathon—and I hope this helps other runners—was that I’m a 130-pound runner. I’m not a fat girl at all. I know I’m strong and muscular, but you look at the rest of the women who run and none of them are over 120 pounds. I’m clearly built like a soccer player. Once I got past that, I was just going to go for it. I don’t care how much bigger I am than the rest of the girls. So I kind of want to spread the word that you don’t need to be a super small and skinny person to run a marathon.
What carryover aspects are there between playing soccer to running a marathon?
Soccer is pretty similar to running for me. Sometimes getting through a 90-minute soccer game is just as hard as running a half-marathon or a marathon mentally because you’re pushing all the time and you have to be there for your teammates. On the soccer field, you’re putting in tons of miles and you have to sprint when you’re tired and you don’t feel like you can. So the mental aspect and the pain aspect of soccer really carry over to running. The bottom line is that I love what I do and I love racing. I wouldn’t say I always love the training, but I’m a racer.