Last year, Steve Scott, a Service Technician for Cobb Technologies, and veteran of the World Marathon Challenge, ran 168 miles from Danville, Virginia, to Cobb’s headquarters in Glenn Allen, Virginia to raise money for Cobb’s charitable arm, Imprint.
This year, four other ultra-runners are joining Steve for a 350-mile relay race across Virginia, ending at Cobbtoberfest 2021. In this interview, we talk to Alicia Kletter about the World Marathon Challenge, her history as a runner, and this year’s upcoming run.
To learn more about Cobbtoberfest 2021, visit Imprint’s event page.
How long have you been running?
I've been running since 1999.
And what got you into running?
I had just graduated from college in New York and moved to San Diego with my boyfriend at the time. He was in the Navy and was doing those long deployments where he’d leave for six months on the ship. We had only been in San Diego a short time when he had to leave, and I didn't know a lot of people. I suddenly found myself with all this free time. One of my bosses was a runner and said, “Why don't you run this 10k with me?”
I didn't know what a 10k distance really was. I had no concept of what that would feel like. But I said, “Okay, sure.” I did a little running to prepare, and I went out and I ran the 10k. And I was completely hooked. I mean, so hooked that I think I ran my first marathon six months later. I really escalated quickly. I'd always been an athlete in some sense. I was raised on a dairy farm in upstate New York, and I had always played sports like volleyball and soccer. I played rugby in college, which was tough. But you know, I just immediately loved running and I've never looked back.
That's awesome. So your first marathon was six months after your first race?
Yes, my first marathon. So, I must have run that in June of 2000. Wow. It was so fun. I remember smiling the whole way.
Do you remember what your time was?
Yes, four and a half hours maybe?
That’s very respectable.
Yes, but I goof off a lot. I mean, I very rarely actually race. I raced once to get a PR in a marathon, which for me is a 3:29, which is respectable. I really wanted to qualify for Boston that year. So, I worked really hard and ran fast and I didn't talk to anybody along the way.
But the thing is, on these longer distances, I like to goof off at the aid stations. I think the aid stations are so much fun. I'll run really, really hard and then I'll stop at the aid station and socialize for five minutes and talk with everybody who will talk to me. To run a marathon in 3 and a half hours, I really must stop being social, which is not necessarily the reason why I run, if that makes sense.
Definitely. So when did you get involved in the world marathon?
I just did that with Steve right before the pandemic. I’ve been running longer and longer distances over the last two decades. I moved from San Diego to San Francisco, got married and had two children. I continued to run some, but not long distances, during pregnancy and while raising babies. Then, when my kids started school, like when my youngest went to kindergarten, I finally found myself having more time again to run. I started considering longer distances. Eventually 6 years ago I did a 50 kilometer race, which is just shy of 32 miles and that was exhilarating.
I started doing a lot more trail running and more, I guess what you would consider, harder, more extreme runs. I honestly don't know how to use the word extreme anymore, because I've done such crazy stuff. It's hard to think about anything here being extreme. But for example, instead of my Saturday morning run being down to the Embarcadero and back on concrete, it would be up in the hills of Marin where I live. So, it would be more a little more edgy, I guess you'd say.
I started doing that, like in the early 2010’s maybe. And then I distinctly remember when Instagram became a big thing and somehow, someone had told me or sent me an article and said, “You should read about this world marathon challenge. You're the only person I know crazy enough to do it.”
I read the article and I remember thinking, this is insane! There's no way I could do this. Yeah, sure, I like running one marathon but then I want to sleep for three days after and eat lots of pizza. I don't want to do seven in a row! But I remember I just kept thinking about it. And it kept nagging at my brain. And then in April of 2019, I happened to go to Australia for 10 days. It was just a vacation and I wasn't with my kids and I had 10 days, all alone, to do whatever I wanted. I ran 13 miles a day for 10 days, just because I could, and I used it as a way of exploring wherever I was staying. I don't know if you've ever been to Australia, but I was on the Gold Coast, and stayed in two different towns. So, I’d get to the new place and I'd immediately take off for two or three hours to run 13 miles and just get to know the lay of the land. You know, that's one of the things about running — it takes you amazing places, you just explore places you can't go in cars or might never find whizzing by on a road. I remember coming back from that vacation having logged 13 miles a day for 10 days.
Then I reached out to Richard Donovan (the organizer of the World Marathon Challenge) kind of thinking, “There's no way this guy's going to write me back.” I mean, the World Marathon Challenge — this is for elite, you know, professional runners… I just had this image of the type of person that would be able to do that race, and it wasn’t me.
Richard wrote me right back and he was so friendly. He said, “If you can run 13 miles for 10 days, you can run 26 for seven, no problem.” He said “I'm going to be in San Francisco, let's meet over a pint of beer, and we'll talk.” Richard is Irish and he is hilarious and he came to San Francisco and immediately I thought, “If Richard says I can do it, I can do it.” And so I did. I started training in June of 2019, and I ran in February 2020 — seven months of training.
So what was your favorite part about the whole 7-7-7?
That's a good question. I feel like the thing that's had the most lasting imprint on me are the people that I met. When you go through something like that together — I mean, you throw 40 people from 40 different places with 40 different ideas and 40 different personalities on an airplane together – amazing things can happen.
It was heartwarming how well we all meshed and got along. I’ve actually remained quite close with Richard, the race director. We chat every day or so. And he has said that our 2020 group from the world marathon is incredibly cohesive still. We're the ones that still do events together. We still chat and supports each other on social media with our various events. Keri (another Cobbtoberfest runner) was just at my house last month in August and she and I went on a little vacation together. The collective experiences of all of us really have been highly motivating for me, as an athlete.
I find that people who don't run to the extreme that I run understandably have trouble comprehending what it's like when our bodies aren't performing the way we want or when we don't have time for a run. There's a particular mindset, and to be on an airplane with 39 other people who had that mindset was amazing. For me, that was the most incredible thing. And then, of course, the — you know — the running. I mean, the running was amazing to me in the way that the world marathon is set up; these races are set up as loops in each location.
You get to the next place, and for safety and timing, you have to drive to the race location, everybody has to run the 26.2 miles, and then you have to get back to the airport and on to the next place. Therefore, the marathons are set up as loops. The camaraderie while we were running - seeing and passing people and cheering each other - and doing loop after loop after loop – felt especially helpful to manage the task at hand. Everybody was rooting for everybody else. Even the people who were winning the races and competing were taking the time to cheer us on. Once the race was over, we were all on the airplane again together, cracking jokes, of course sleeping! and having a great time until the next race. It was pretty amazing. Yes, I would definitely say the camaraderie was the thing that stuck out to me the most.
The way that you talk about it, it basically sounds like a family reunion, except everyone is running.
Exactly! Even in my own personal life, for a few years whenever we'd get together for family reunions, I try to get everyone to do a 5k — but that only lasted a couple years. We all had some awesome times at the World Marathon Challenge and that's part of why I’m doing this run with Steve.
I love Steve and I'm happy to support what Steve supports. When he said it's going to be a 7-7-7 team and I knew other people were there — I couldn’t wait to get back on board and see everybody and recreate some of that energy from the world marathon challenge.
Have you done any other charity specific runs in the past?
I've done a few. I raised money a long time ago with my boyfriend in San Diego. Yes, so the answer to your question I raised money for an HIV and AIDS Foundation here in San Francisco.
My Aunts asked me to be on the team and I raised a bunch of money and ran a marathon in Hawaii, which was fun as a group. Since then, the main charity that I've supported in my recent past is the Bonnie Addario Lung Cancer Foundation here in San Francisco. It's a charity that raises money for research into lung cancer treatments but it also assists patients and their families with education and support.
I got interested in this charity because my husband's parents both died of lung cancer I never knew his dad — his dad died before I met my husband, but his mom, I knew her and she was great. She died of lung cancer when our son was really little and before our daughter was even born. I also work in Addiction Medicine as a career and am familiar with stigmatized illness and how it affects my patients, and I felt acutely the stigma that goes with a lung cancer diagnosis.
You know, the sentiment with both addiction and lung cancer is that people feel like you deserve it. But his father didn’t smoke and his mom had stopped smoking 30 years prior. If you read the literature, there's a lot of younger people who are getting diagnosed with lung cancer who don't have any history of smoking at all.
It was a good fit for my passions, both professionally and personally, and I raised money for that organization on two occasions. They sent me to Berlin, Germany to run the Berlin Marathon, which actually was five years ago last weekend. I did another big race with them, the Chicago Marathon. In fact, I brought my sister and my sister-in-law to Chicago for that. The three of us all raised money and went to Chicago, together with the Bonnie Addario Lung Cancer Foundation.
I tend to feel a little shy when it comes to running for a charity or putting myself out there and asking for donations, but Steve’s passion has helped to make this less worrisome.
So did anything other than being able to run again with your team draw you to the race that's coming up?
I did something very typical of crazy people like me. I said, “Yes, I'm in” before I even knew what I had agreed to.
You didn’t know about the run before you signed up for it?
I know Steve. I follow Steve. And I know Steve well enough to know that he does a lot of fundraising and does a lot of stuff with charity. I remember when he ran last year. He reached out to us, and he's like, “Hey, does anyone want to run across the state of Virginia?”
And I said, “Yes.” I don't even think I knew Imprint was involved until much later on so I really went into it thinking, “I love Steve. If Steve wants to do it, it must be crazy. And it's going to be fun.”
Also, and this sounds a little silly, but I love the state of Virginia. I grew up visiting. I grew up in New York State but tons and tons of relatives of mine live in Newport News, Virginia, right on the James River.
And as a child, I spent a lot of time in Virginia. Two years ago my father and his wife, just before the pandemic started, moved to Abingdon, Virginia. They bought a farm there. So Virginia has always been a state that's been near and dear to my family. My brother also lives in Reston, Virginia with his family.
I thought, yes, I'd love to see more of Virginia, because I really just know Newport News and this sounds really fun. It wasn't until later that Steve really made the point that we were running for the charity. Then I went to the Imprint website and I looked up a lot of what you all do, and how it's really working with individual nonprofits in the community to support children. And I thought, of course, I have two kids and it’s a great cause. I trust Steve, it's going to be great.
What does the preparation for a 350 mile run look like?
I don't know if you’ll get answer you are expecting from me because I'm honestly not doing anything too different than my normal training, which is I run 40 to 50 miles a week anyway. Even when I'm not racing, or training for anything, it's just part of my mental health care, my alone time, and my mindfulness practice.
The main thing that I'm doing differently is I'm incorporating a little bit more strength training than I normally would, because, sure, you can run those miles - I could run those miles without the strength training - but I don't want to. I don't want to get hurt or feel too sore. I've added an extra session a week. So now I see my trainer twice instead of once. And I've also had her add two workout days instead of just one to add some diversity in my speed and cadence.
What that means is I'm running six to seven days a week, but two of those days are something more active, faster, like hill repeats on one day, and then tempo pace another day - just to vary my body and my mind a little bit - again to prevent injury. But the actual mileage per day doesn't necessarily worry me too much. I think I know what are we running — 20 miles a day or something? I don't know, Steve has it all figured out. Like those are the details that I don't even pay attention to because I think, “Oh, it'll be fine. I'll be able to do it.”
But my baseline is pretty good, I guess is what I'm trying to say. Throughout the whole summer, I wasn't really racing, and I was still running 40 to 50 miles a week. My base is there.
That is awesome. I did a couple seasons of cross country, and that was 12 miles a day, six days a week. So I partly understand what it takes to stay at that level. And just to be able to say, “yeah, I just kind of do it.” — that is amazing. I love running, but I do not love running that much.
Oh my gosh, I love it. It makes me a better parent and person. My kids will sometimes say, “You're cranky, have you had your run today?” I think the other thing that I'll do to prepare as the date gets closer is I'll really focus more on my sleep. You know, I’m a busy mom and I'm a doctoral student in nursing full time and I do all this running and so I tend to want to be a good sleeper, but I'm not always so great about going to bed, because of all the work I have to do. What I'll do the week before the run across Virginia is really focus on getting a good night's sleep because if I've slept well, and if I'm eating well, I can accomplish a lot.
Running is fun to me. We've used our World Marathon Challenge Facebook group to organize some virtual races amongst ourselves. Shortly after COVID shut everything down last year, we organized what's called a backyard ultra, which was really fun. It’s this idea that you map out a 4.1 mile loop around your neighborhood and then every hour on the hour, you go out and run the loop and then it's last person standing — how many laps can people run. It was great, because we all got on this zoom call — all of us world marathon challenge people. We had someone in Poland who was doing it, and we had somebody from Australia who was doing it so they were starting at midnight, and I was starting at 4am — it was crazy. After we’d run our loop, we’d come back and see who was on the zoom call — who had finished and who hadn't. And I think that day the winners ended up running 50 miles.
Wow. So an ultra marathon.
Yeah, I ran a 50k that day and I'm like, “I have to go parent. I'm done.” My kids were awake and waiting for me. It’s such a fun group of people.
What are you looking forward to the most on this run?
I'm definitely looking forward to seeing the folks from the world marathon challenge. I'm looking forward to just the beauty and the creativity — like understanding the creativity that it takes to actually run across an entire state — I mean, you don’t hear of people doing that. But my mind is like, “Well, what? What are we going to avoid?” I'm sure we're going to avoid highways, but where are we going to run and what's it going to be like — I like the whole unfathomable aspect of it — that is very appealing to me.
I like to show up for adventures where I don't always know every single part of what I'm going to be doing. That's thrilling to me. It was also one of the things that I loved about the World Marathon Challenge. I'm really excited to get out there and have Steve be like, “Okay, this is where you're running today, you're running 10 miles here, and then you're running ten miles later.” The unknown and the excitement is really appealing to me. And of course, I'm also honestly looking forward to meeting all of you and learning more about Imprint.