Meghan Huber wasn't a born athlete. Much smaller than her childhood peers, she laughs as she remembers not being strong enough to open the classroom door on the first day of kindergarten. Once she reached eighth grade, she was commonly mistaken for a second-grader. In gym class, she says, "I was always the last one picked and the weakest link in Red Rover. I didn't have a lot of confidence with sports. It just never occurred to me to do anything athletic."
Now 48 years old, Huber stands just over five feet tall and the irony of life has led her to become something she would have never imagined: an athlete. A marathoner, to be exact.
A project manager for Stahl Construction Company, Huber didn't come to running until her mid-thirties. Her husband, who has run more than 50 marathons, introduced her to the idea. After several years of standing on the sidelines supporting her better half, Huber started jogging with their dog. "One day I just decided that I was going to see how far I could go without stopping," she says. Upon clocking the route in her car, she discovered that she had covered two miles on foot. "That was something I never thought I could do," she says.
From that day forth, she was literally off and running. At 34 years old she ran her first official race, a 5-mile. After that she began setting her sights higher, or rather, longer. "As I got closer to my 40th birthday, I started to think 'What if I could run a marathon?' " she remembers. Methodically minded, Huber laid out a training plan and began pounding out the miles.
"I was really afraid of failing and not being able to do it," she says. Once she finished her first half marathon race, however, she was sure that 26.2 miles was within her reach.
The 2002 Chicago Marathon became Huber's ultimate running goal. Just two months into her training, she incurred a stress fracture in her lower leg; but rather than shelving her plans, she decided to continue training. Eight weeks of running in a swimming pool allowed her stress fracture to heal, while also building her fitness level. Spending up to 3.5 painstaking hours in the water at a time, she didn't miss a beat. "I wanted to do the marathon so badly, I just wasn't going to let it stop me," she says.
Soon after turning 40, Huber toed up to the starting line with her stepdaughter. There was a chill in the air, with temperatures hovering in the low 40s: perfect running weather. As the starting gun fired, Huber let the thrill of running with 30,000 other people wash over her, carrying her effortlessly through the first half.
With just two miles two go, Huber's initial enthusiasm turned into exhaustion, her legs throbbing and her gusto waning. With the encouragement of a fellow runner, she continued to put one foot in front of the other as she neared the end. "I ran as hard as I could when I saw that finish line," she says. "It was just pure joy."
The Running Life
Since her first marathon finish, Huber has completed another Chicago Marathon, the Twin Cities Marathon and the Walt Disney Marathon in Florida, with a 5:16 personal best. She contends that it isn't so much completing these races that makes running important to her, but the road to the finish lines. "Running has definitely taught me not to worry so much about how I'm going to get somewhere. If you think you can do something, you can," she says.
Running serves as a metaphor for life, in Huber's mind. "Any time I go through hard things, I think, I just need to keep going, I'm going to get there. I know every type of pain is temporary. You don't have the same sense of value for the things that come easy," she explains. "There's always something in the back of your head saying, 'You can stop whenever you want.' I've learned to say back, 'I'm not going to stop.' "
Running has taught Huber volumes, turning her into an advocate for the sport. "It can totally change your perspective of yourself," she says. In 2006 she decided to help start a new race with the goal of motivating other women to get running. With the support of her all-women's real estate group, Minnesota Commercial Real Estate Women (MNCREW), the Women Run the Cities race was born. Offering a 10-mile run and a 5k run/walk, Huber explains, "We make it women-only to provide a place for women to run and not worry about how fast they are."
In the past four years, the event has become an overwhelming success, attracting up to 2,500 runners each September. Raising money for the Ann Bancroft Foundation Dare to Dream Program for girls and CREW Foundation Scholarship Program for women in commercial real estate careers, the race helps support the goals and dreams of girls and women everywhere.
What's more, the event has provided Huber an ideal platform from which to bring her excitement for running to others. "It is so great to have women who have never run anything in their life come to our race," she says. "It's so awesome to see people do something they never thought they could do."
Huber's infectious personality and lively spirit have inspired many of those around her to pick up the sport. "Go slow at the beginning," she recommends. "Don't feel like you have to set the world on fire right away. Listen to your body, take your time and don't get discouraged. Set a goal so you're working towards something."
She will continue to spread the good running word, whether it's co-chairing Women Run the Cities or just out running around her Edina neighborhood. "Running makes me feel stronger and younger. It's easy to think you're too old to try something new, but running keeps me feeling always ready to try new things."
The 2012 London Marathon is Huber's next big goal. In the meantime, she'll continue logging miles and motivating others to get out and run, proving good things really do come in small packages.
Written by Mackenzie Lobby
Women Run the Cities Race
Date: September 26
Time: Women's 10-mile Run: 8 a.m.
Girls 1-mile Run: 8:10 a.m.
Women's 5K Run/Walk: 8:30 a.m.