Three Vicksburg women have more miles and goals ahead of them

Published 4:50 pm Monday, August 17, 2015

Francine Nosser, Amy Haygood and Lee Johnson are following in the footsteps of Pheidippides.

Pheidippides, according to legend, is the runner who brought the news to Athens of the Greek army’s victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. On weekends, Nosser, Haygood and Johnson run the 26.22-mile race that bears the name of that famous battle — they’re called marathoners.

Nosser, a nutritionist at Merit Health River Region, ran her first marathon in Dallas in 1999. She has since run between 55 and 60 marathons.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“I wanted to lose weight,” she said. “I started running. I would run three miles and then it crept up to four, and then I would do five. I felt like I was on top of the world. I started challenging myself, and then Oprah Winfrey ran her marathon. I thought, ‘if Oprah can do it, I can do it,’ and that’s when I ran my first marathon.”

Her children, Blake and Anna, who both ran cross-country for St. Aloysius, inspired Haygood.

“I would run and walk with a friend of mine, Donna Ingram. Then I started running in 2006,” Haygood said, the same year she competed in her first marathon in Tupelo. “I’ve been running ever since,” she said.

She has run 36 marathons since.

Johnson ran her first marathon was in 2000 at the Music City Marathon in Nashville. Before she said she was into distance cycling. “I got burned out and started running. I lived in Jackson at the time, and had some friends who coaxed me into running long distance,” she said.

Johnson set a goal for herself to run 50 marathons before she turned 50-years-old and has achieved that goal.

The first modern marathon was run at the modern Olympics in Greece in 1896 and was open to men only. The distance was 24.85 miles — much shorter than the 300 miles Pheidippides supposedly ran from Marathon to Athens — and won by a Greek, Spyridon Louis.

The race was lengthened to the present 26.22 miles in 1924. The women’s marathon was introduced at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and won by Joan Benoit, an American.

The marathon is a grueling race that takes hours, not minutes, to finish.

“Running a marathon challenges you,” Haygood said.

It takes a lot of work. Preparing for a marathon involves a lot of running, and for some, cross training, which involves bringing other exercises into the mix.

For Nosser, Haygood and Johnson the training begins in the early morning hours.

“We’re at the gym at 5 a.m., and on Saturday morning, everybody runs long,” Haygood said. “We run between 12 and 20 miles, depending on what (race) we’re going to run.”

“We try to stay ‘marathon ready,” Nosser said.

The women run in a group of four men and four women. Johnson joined the group after she moved to Vicksburg.

“They made me run a little faster,” she said.

The group prefers running in the Vicksburg National Military Park, but has run in other areas of Warren County.

“None of us runs six or seven days a week,” Johnson said. “They joke with me; I only run two or three days a week.”

“You need days off, and that’s when you do cross-training, spinning (riding a stationary bike at high speed) or strength training,” Haygood said. “I used to think you had to run every day, but you don’t have to run every day.”

Strength training, she said, helps, by providing a runner the extra stamina to withstand the strain on the body and avoid “hitting the wall” — the runner’s term for reaching a point while running where fatigue sets in, creating a sensation so bad it feels similar to hitting a wall.

“I don’t think I’ve ever hit the wall,” Haygood said, “but the last .22 mile is the hardest.”

“I hit the wall (after) about 18 miles,” Nosser said. “She speeds up when she hits mile 18,” Haygood said.

“Actually, it depends on how fast you start,” Nosser said. “If you start out fast, you’ll hit the wall.”

And there is the challenge of finding time to balance family, training and running.

Haygood said her children support her running.

“My kids are in college and they know I’m committed to my running, and I enjoy it so much,” she said.

Nosser said husband, Rowdy Nosser, is also supportive of her running, and her three sons all run.

“Not marathons, but they run for exercise, so I hope seeing me run makes them more interested,” she said.

A single parent, Johnson said her running has influenced her 12-year-old son, adding he’s interested in running the 1-mile run at the Run Through History.

Running and training for marathons has done more than put the women in good physical shape. It’s created a bond of friendship.

“If it weren’t for running, we probably wouldn’t know each other,” Nosser said. “You just have fun.

“The exercise part is great, and the running part is great, and we’ve got this group. We started going to marathons together and we became really good friends. Really, a lot of it is the camaraderie. We just have fun.”

As a group, the women have competed in races at Moab, Utah, Flagstaff, Ariz., and Polo Dura Canyon, Texas.

“Polo Dura, that’s 31 miles,” Haygood said, “although me and Francine got lost and ran 36 miles. It was a trail run.”

“It was a bunch of loops, and we happened to take the wrong loop,” Nosser said.

The group’s favorite, they said, was Moab, Utah.

“That challenged us a lot,” Haygood said. “We had to climb a canyon with a rope and rappel down, and jump a crevice. At one point, there was a hill, and it was unbelievable. It took us almost eight hours to finish that one.”

Nosser, Haygood said, once ran two marathons back-to-back.

“I tried to run slow and not break any records,” Nosser said. “I ran in Pensacola, Fla. on Saturday, and the Mardi Gras Marathon in New Orleans on Sunday. The Mardi Gras Marathon started at the Superdome and through the French Quarter, through City Park and back to the dome and then to Audubon Park.”

One new challenge the women now face besides running the distance, is dealing with the crowds of runners ready to test themselves.

“Marathons are beginning to grow in participation, especially the half-marathons (13.1 miles), it’s huge,” Haygood said. “It can get real crowded when you have your marathoners and half-marathoners for the full 13.1 miles.”

Marathons in Jackson and Greenville are crowded, Johnson said, adding 1,200 runners ran in the last Greenville race. The pack, she said, doesn’t stay crowded long. “It spreads out quickly,” she said.

And entry fees are increasing, Nosser said. When the group first started running marathons, she said, the fee was “$25, $30. Now it’s $90.”

“It costs $90 to torture yourself,” Haygood said.

Johnson said the group prefers to run the smaller races, including the local 5 and 10k runs — Chill in the Hills, Over the River Run and their favorite the Run Through History, which goes though the Military Park. But they are also setting their sights on some larger races.

Haygood and Lee want to eventually run the Boston Marathon, the epitome of distance races in the U.S. Haygood once fell five minutes short of qualifying for the race, she said.

Nosser, who Haygood said “has qualified several times for the Boston Marathon,” wants to run the New York Marathon.

Despite their dreams, the runners said they don’t always push for personal records.

“I think a lot of times it’s just enjoying the run and the people you’re with,” Nosser said. “Sometimes we’ll set a goal; sometimes we’ll set a goal for a specific time or to qualify for Boston.”

“You can’t run as many as we do and push to run your fastest every time,” Johnson said.

“Sometimes it’s just a challenge to say, ‘I’m going to start out, and I’m going to feel good, and I’m going to cross the finish line. Just feeling good the whole time,’” Nosser added.

“You either love it or hate it,” Haygood said. “You run your first marathon and you say, ‘I’ll never do that again.’ Or you run it and you think, ‘I hurt a lot, but bring it on.’”


About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

email author More by John