Kirsten Scheel’s Journey to Bronze: A self-described “ordinary woman” becomes an extraordinary marathoner

Kirsten Scheel She says it was to her own astonishment that she finished third overall in the Women’s Class of the 2018 St. Jude Marathon. Her time was 3:12:55.

How She Started Running

This 29-year-old grew up in Arlington and played basketball for Bolton High School until her junior year when it became apparent she had stopped growing. “I was 5 feet 4.5 inches tall when I was 10 years old,” she says. “For years, I was the tallest girl. Everyone thought I’d be tall. But at a certain point, I realized I wasn’t going to grow anymore and wouldn’t play basketball in college.”

She quit the team sport and started running. “During senior year, I would get up at 4:30 or 5:30 and run. I didn’t have time goals or wear a GPS watch. I just enjoyed the run. It was my hour to myself.”

Weaving Fitness Throughout Her Life

Though Kirsten’s life has changed in many ways, running has remained a constant. She studied Early Childhood Development at the University of Memphis and now works as the Early Childhood Coordinator at Second Presbyterian Church alongside teaching at CycleBar in Germantown.

“I like teaching at CycleBar because fitness has given me a voice,” she explains. “I love people, but I’m not an extrovert. When I teach fitness, I have to be confident in front of a room full of people. Learning to do that has given me more confidence in myself.”

Along similar lines, Kirsten says that running served as the foundation of her social life. “My running friends became my closest friends,” she says. She met her husband, Charlie, when she was training for a half marathon and he was training for a triathlon while working at the UofM Fitness and Recreation Center.

A change in Kirsten’s social life played an unexpected role in her development as an athlete. “I used to run with friends until two moved away. It was then that I realized I was faster than I thought I was.”

In 2015, Kirsten ran in the St. Jude Marathon but missed qualifying for Boston by four minutes. She decided to try again the following year. For the first time, she armed herself with a GPS watch and some online training resources and qualified in 2016.

Taking Running Up a Notch

A disappointing performance in the 2017 St. Jude Marathon led her to enroll in a clinic with coach Kevin Leathers of Can’t Stop Endurance. “I felt there was more inside of me, and I wanted to just see what I could do in this sport.” Kirsten still works with him once a month and sends him her weekly running logs. According to both coach and athlete, she has chosen the right mentor.

Her coach says that her work at CycleBar is great cross training for running. “Cross-training is great for additional aerobic capacity, strength, and injury prevention,” he explains. “That allows them to run fewer miles and avoid some of the common overuse injuries that tend to trouble runners.”

He’s also been key in helping her avoid injury. Kirsten says, “I had some Achilles issues after the Boston Marathon. He gave me some good suggestions to wear inserts and do special exercises.”

Dominating in 2018

Kirsten was in top form on December 1 when she ran the St. Jude race. “My only goal for that race was not to walk,” she recalls. “That was the first marathon where I didn’t walk a single step.”

With that modest goal in mind, she had no inkling she would end up anywhere near the top three.

“I had no idea I was near the front until Mile 14. About Mile 20, someone shouted, ‘You’re the 4th or 5th woman!’. . . At Mile 23, I passed a runner and heard someone yell, ‘You’re third!’” Spurred on by that encouragement, she ran her last mile in 6:40 and claimed the Bronze.

What Comes Next

With this victory behind her, Kirsten has re-set her goals. She starts her training for Boston this month and plans to complete several 5Ks. Training isn’t only about events and accolades for her. She says running has a meaningful impact on every area of her life, including her work with children.

“Running is kind of my form of meditation. I can go and run, quiet my mind, and pray. Running has taught me patience. I use what I’ve learned in fitness when I’m working with families. There’s a lot of overlap.”

Kirsten says her husband deserves some of the credit for her athletic success. “To compete in an endurance sport, you need a supportive spouse. My husband listens to any whining and wondering, and tells me to go get the run done. He believes in me 100%. I am incredibly lucky that everyone in my life is supportive, encouraging, and understanding of the sacrifices that have to be made when training!”

When asked about long-term goals, Kirsten pauses for a moment, looks off into the distance, and then says with a smile, “I would love to one day run the marathon in Athens because that’s where it all started.”

By Caroline Sposto

Photos by Tindall Stephens

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