Runner seeks mystery woman
October 28th, 2011
11:09 AM ET

Runner seeks mystery woman

Editor's note: Michael Schulder is a senior executive producer at CNN.

Two hundred and fifty thousand or so Americans are expected to run and complete a half marathon this month. And I plan to be one of them on Saturday. It's my first half.

But I have an advantage over all those other runners - an advantage I got from a mystery woman, whose voice has whispered encouragement into my earbuds from my iPod Nike App since I began jogging two years ago, as I approached the age of 50.

Yes, the mystery woman has said something to me she hasn’t told those other iPod App runners.

I had never planned to do long distances. I was just jogging a few miles a few times a week - 30 minute runs for health and longevity. “Chasing Life” and “Cheating Death,” as my colleague Dr. Sanjay Gupta might say.

But I got hooked. I gradually increased my mileage. And I noticed that when I’d break a personal record, or personal best, which is an important marker in the running world, a voice would come over my iPod running app. A British voice. A sultry voice. And here’s what she said:

“Congratulations. This is (a name I didn’t recognize.) You’ve just done your personal best..." Short. Sweet. Encouraging.

I broke a few personal records over time. Each time her voice would speak to me - the same woman, the same message. But I always forgot her name.

This summer I was in New York, and decided I had to get this mystery woman’s name. The only way to hear her say her name was to break another personal record. And the only personal record I knew I could break through sheer willpower was the amount of time I’d run. So, in Central Park, on June 21, the longest day of the year, which is an advantage when you’re running after work in Central Park, I ran, and ran, and ran, until I knew I’d run longer than I’d ever run before.

Then I pulled out the pen and piece of paper that I brought with me for the occasion, pushed the iPod button and listened to the message.

“Congratulations. This is Paula Radcliffe...”

Same woman. Same message. This time, I had her name.

PAULA RADCLIFFE! Never heard of her. I raced back to my hotel room and Googled her name. A MILLION hits. Paula Radcliffe, I quickly learned, is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, female marathoner.

I had to speak with her.

I called our CNN London bureau. Of course they knew her. She’s a national icon over there. They gave me her husband’s email. He’s her coach. I emailed him. He gave me her cell and told me to call her the next morning on her way to the airport.

I reached Paula at the appointed time.

I told her how much I appreciated her encouragement whenever I did my personal best.

But I told her I was disappointed - very disappointed. Last night, I said, I didn’t simply break a personal record. I broke it by leaps and bounds. I ran a far greater amount of time than I’d ever run before. And yet, I said, you used the very same words you always use when I just barely break a personal best.

“How long did you run,” Paula asked.

“I increased my time from 40 minutes to a whole hour,” I told her.

“An hour!” she exclaimed. “Well,” she said. “You’re no longer a jogger. NOW, you’re a runner.”

You heard it. Paula Radcliffe, the great marathoner, has declared me a runner.

I had one more question for her. Your husband is your coach, I said. What words of encouragement does he give you at the end of a run?

He usually doesn’t say anything, she told me. She explained that she and her husband know each other so well that a simple look from him communicates a lot. “But sometimes,” she says, “after a run, he’ll give me a hug.”

A hug.

There’s no app for that.

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Filed under: Exercise

soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Amy


    October 28, 2011 at 11:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim

      Eat well, stay fit, die anyway.

      October 28, 2011 at 17:32 | Report abuse |
    • glenn robert

      A beautiful post about a beautiful person!

      October 28, 2011 at 18:16 | Report abuse |
  2. NOYB

    Awesome article!

    October 28, 2011 at 12:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mayk

      I teach my kids about God, Satan, heaven and hell. It is iaorptmnt that they know about it. Important for me to keep my commitment to the church, God, if I put it when they were babies bekam.Meine beliefs, the truth is that the child is present, and they will face bear all their lives. It's my job as a mother, and I intend to stick to it!

      March 5, 2012 at 20:20 | Report abuse |
  3. Bob

    There really needs to be a public discussion about the effects of marathon running, or running in general, on the immune system. It is not good. Those with compromised immune systems should not try to run this far. The rest of the people out there need to stop assuming that everyone can run a marathon if he/she REALLY wants to. No. Not everyone can. Nor should most people even try. It is not worth it for most. I have run marathons, finished them, and recovered from them. I have also known people who ran marathons and had serious immune system issues afterward. Bottom line is don't assume running marathons is good for everyone or anyone.

    October 28, 2011 at 12:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • realist88

      Bob – what credentials are you using to make such an idiotic statement – "nor should most people even try." Are you serious? Running is BAD for your health? That's a first for me and although I'm no doctor, I think the medical community just might back me up on this one! But perhaps your right, sitting on your couch is far more beneficial...

      October 30, 2011 at 09:34 | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      realist88: Walking that far has great effects, but running that far can cause serious problems with knees, spine, ankles. Every person who exercises that much should be supervised by a doctor. Remember how Jim Fix died?

      October 30, 2011 at 23:31 | Report abuse |
    • Broken Snout

      @Elizabeth – Jim FixX had a congenital condition. Check your facts and spelling before you post: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Fixx

      Also, if you look back at his history (in this wiki post), you'll see that he had a pretty poor lifestyle before he took up running. And, there's a big possibility he wouldn't have lived as long as he did if he didn't take up exercise.

      Everybody – I think we all realize that exercise is not a panacea. We all realize that exercise doesn't guarantee a long life. However, it boosts the *percentage* quite a bit and certainly boosts the probability for quality of life. If you're an obese couch potato, and your warcry is "Exercise doesn't help at all, Jim Fix died early!", you're kidding yourself.

      November 1, 2011 at 10:17 | Report abuse |
  4. muzetta

    Awwww!!!! So cute! Way to go, runner!

    October 28, 2011 at 13:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Runner, PhD

    You are only partially correct. Immune system function does indeed decline after the completion of a marathon, but only for 2-3 days. In general, trained runners have much better immune function than non-exercisers, provided that they do not overtrain and take care of themselves in terms of nutrition and sleep. The health benefits of running far outweigh the risk of getting a cold after a marathon. That being said, far too many people are not actually taught how to run correctly, which makes running quite unique among sports. Nobody jumps into a pool or onto a tennis court without first being taught how to do it properly, which I believe is one of the major reasons for the prevalence of running injuries (that, and high heeled cushioned running shoes).

    October 28, 2011 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Elizabeth

      People who exercise do have better health, but the amount of exercise of a marathoner can cause all sorts of troubles, including joint problems, hormone imbalances, etc. I am not a Ph.D., but am aware of what happens to dancers. Well, then again, maybe dancers exercise more than runners.

      October 30, 2011 at 23:35 | Report abuse |
  6. mmee888

    This is by far the best article I have read all day!

    October 28, 2011 at 13:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. schulderfan

    Great article and thanks for solving a mystery. Good luck on the half! I hope Paula gives you a call back to congratulate you after you cross the line.

    October 28, 2011 at 14:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Poodles

    I wear diapers when I run so I don't have to stop.

    October 28, 2011 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Runnergirl

    Michael – Welcome to the club! Running is indeed a healthy addiction! I started running 6 years ago and I often wish I started sooner. I've made great friends through running. And I've seen cities in new ways through running!
    Keep it up and enjoy your Half Marathon! You are in an elite club that is open to all!
    Happy trails!

    October 28, 2011 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Beth

    Awesome article! Wish I could join the "Running" club, however, I have asthma and I cannot. Best of luck to you, doctor!

    October 28, 2011 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Pam

    It's so insulting to be called a "jogger" because you're not sprinting. Even the elite runners pace themselves. If you can do a 10K, 10 mile, 1/2 marathon or full marathon, you are a RUNNER!

    October 28, 2011 at 19:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Jenna

    I used to run when I was younger, and I liked it. Can't beat the high. Unfortunately, it's a little hard on the body and I really want to preserve what I have.

    October 29, 2011 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Kristal

    Running is Great i should know after almost 30 yrs but i have no idea how far i have acturally have run but its without a douth in the multi thousands of miles my big regret is not knowing- so do not do i as i did keep a journal if only 4 your own selfish reasons . its just a brain thing knowing how far u have done. happy jogging or happy running (just do iT) ITS hard work but it gets easier- but only if You get in to it .good luck make 2marrow the beginning of the rest of Your life.

    October 30, 2011 at 21:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Caitlin Constantine

    I can just imagine the look on the London bureau's face when they got that phone call lol. Funny story!

    About running – I am passionate about running. It's one of the things that makes me happiest in life. But I do have to agree that running isn't necessarily for everyone. People can get fit and stay active through a variety of activities – yoga, cycling, team sports, swimming. I think we runners tend to be pretty evangelical about our sport, which can sometimes become dogmatic, but people are really better off sticking to something that works for them and makes them feel good.

    October 31, 2011 at 07:49 | Report abuse | Reply
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