Local professor has passion for marathon running

Published 6:50 pm Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dr. Michael Woods doesn’t look like a maniac.

However, by the standards of the billions who don’t understand the mindset of a marathon runner, he’s just that, a marathon maniac.

Woods is professor of botany and curator in the department of biology and environmental sciences at Troy University. And, when he’s not doing what professors of botany do, he’s either running or thinking about running.

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“Running is my passion,” Woods said. “A lot of people don’t understand that but, when I’m ask why I run, I say, why not? I enjoy it and it’s good for me, mentally and physically.”

With the question of “why” answered, the next question is “Why so far?”

For even the most dedicated runners usually a 5K or a 10K run would be exercise enough and sufficient fun. So, why a marathon? Why 26.2 miles?

“The challenge,” Woods said. “It’s all about the challenge. I set goals for myself. My first goal is to finish a marathon. Then I set a time, always under four hours. Then I try for a better time and then a good time. Marathons are a challenge and, too, I enjoy the fellowship of the other runners and then it’s just the fun of the run.”

Woods ran some in high school and in college and then a while after, but when he was working on his doctorate, he took off his running shoes. But he missed the “fun” and so, in 2003, he began to run again. This time more seriously.

For many serious runners, their ultimate goal is running and completing a marathon. A marathon medal is the holy grail of running.

So it was with Woods.

“I wanted to run a marathon and, to do that, you have to train,” he said.

For someone, who was already running six to eight miles a day, to begin training for a marathon was not a giant step but a commitment to a lofty goal.

In 2004, Woods competed in and crossed the finish line of the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham. The finish linen was a hook and Woods has been hooked on marathons ever since. He’s a Marathon Maniac.

He’s run seven marathons and finished all of them. So, he’s up for the next challenge that has been dangled in front of him. He will attempt to run four and a half marathons in three months.

“Alabama has three marathons, Huntsville, Mobile and Birmingham and offers a Three in Three Months challenge,” Woods said. “I like the challenge. But there’s also a half marathon in Auburn on January 17 and the Snickers Marathon in Albany, Ga. in March, so I decided, why not do four and a half marathons?”

Woods competed in and finished the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville on Dec. 13 and will compete in the First Light Marathon in Mobile today. The Auburn half marathon is Jan. 17, the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham is on Feb. 15 and the Snickers Marathon is on March 7.

Woods’ regular running routine is six to eight miles a day, five days a week. He cross trains one day either swimming or cycling and skips a day of “fun” once a week.

“As time for a marathon gets closer, I’ll start running from 12 to 15 miles and increase that to 18 to 20 and 22 and on up to 30 miles. I feel comfortable at 30 miles so that’s what I want to work up to before a marathon.

Woods has “worked up” to the grueling four-and-a-half marathon challenge by logging 1,825 miles over the last year. That’s the distance from Albany, New York to Denver, Colorado.

Since he began serious running in 2003, Woods has logged about 9,300 miles and will go more than 10,000 miles, probably before mid-2009.

His best marathon time so far has been 3 hours and 51 minutes in the Rocket City Marathon.

“The time depends on a lot of things other than running ability,” he said. “The weather temperature, rain, humidity and the terrain all have a big effect on your time. At Rock City the temperature was between 27 and 44 degrees with some sun. Those were good running conditions.”

Woods said the Mercedes in Birmingham is a “tough” course because of the hilly terrain.

“I train for hills by running up and down Thrill Hill here in Troy,” he said. “In some marathons the course has hills just about as steep. Thrill Hill gives me a good workout.”

The number of runners also has an effect. Woods ran in the Chicago Marathon in 2006 and there were 45,000 runners.

“There were so many runners that you got bottled in and just couldn’t move,” he said.

All marathons are sanctioned and that means that runners are not allowed to run with any type of electronic devices.

“Ipods and other listening devices are not allowed. It’s a safety thing,” Woods said. “During the first 15 miles there’s a lot of talking among the runners. But after that there’s not a lot of talking and the last miles, there’s almost none at all.”

And, when he crosses the finish line, Woods said he is all but spent.

“At the time, I’ve had enough,” he said, laughing. “On those last few miles, you’ll see runners sitting on the curb crying because they just can’t go any farther and they’ve trained so long and hard and really want to finish.”

Woods said the best and worse feeling in the world is when a marathon maniac crosses the finish line.

“You’re so tired that you can hardly think but it’s also such a feeling of accomplishment and it’s the best feeling in the world,” he said. “Completing a marathon is a feeling that you can’t describe. It’s just fun.”

Woods will have the opportunity for a lot of “fun” as he competes in the Alabama Three In Three Months and his own four-and-a-half marathons.

His goal is to finish all and his ultimate goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon, “the granddaddy of them all.”

“I would love to run in the Boston Marathon but it makes me almost as happy to pass another runner when I’m out for my morning run,” he said. “It used to be that there were so few runners around Troy that you hardly ever saw one. Now, there are a lot of runners and I’m proud to see the increased interest.”

Whether many of those runners will become marathon maniacs, remains to be seen but there’s at least one marathon maniac in Troy and, those who are up and out around 4:30 a.m. just might catch a glimpse of him when the sun comes up on Thrill Hill.