Vicksburg group training for weekend’s St. Jude Marathon

Published 10:31 am Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A local group of friends is taking on the challenge of a lifetime pushing their bodies to the limit in order to bring attention to a worthy cause.

A group of seven Vicksburg women — Margie Heltzel, Jennifer Grey, Shannon Lyons, Melissa Smithhart, Katie Ferrell, Erin Hern and Lauren Coulon — are traveling to Memphis this weekend to run in the St. Jude Memphis Marathon with three taking on the full marathon, three running in the half marathon and one participating in the 5K race.

“I know there are some others too, like my brother and my sister-in-law are doing it,” Hern said. “There’s actually quite a few from here that are going.”

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The group of seven runners has been training at the Vicksburg National Military Park informally since they signed up for the race in July and then really put their regimen in high gear in September. An eighth runner, Blair Hill, also trained for the marathon with the group but had to drop out last minute.

Hern said the women tend to run shorter distances a couple days during the week and take on the longer jaunts on Saturday. Lyons said the women also do some type of boot camp or strength training during the week.

“Our training plan is kind of different just because of our lifestyle,” Hern said.

All of the women work full time jobs, most are married and many have children, but they have committed to this goal together, even when it’s not easy.

“We have to go when we can or when our schedules allow,” Ferrell said, adding the women keep up with each other through a group text and a running application on their phone.

The group has been running together for about three years total, and they sign up for local, shorter races frequently. The women have become a close-knit group of friends, and Hern said she is most looking forward to sharing this experience with the group and watching them reach their goals.

“We’re kind of a support group, a tribe. We support each other. We push each other. We get up at 5 a.m. when we don’t want to because someone is pushing us, and they make us do better and be better. If it weren’t for them, I don’t know if I would do it on my own,” she said.

This is Hern’s second half marathon. She did her first in March.

“The only reason I’m doing this one is because it’s for St. Jude,” Hern said. “I was a Tri Delta in college and that was our philanthropy. St. Jude is just close to my heart. That’s the only reason I’m doing this because I said I would never do another one.”

Heltzel, Smithhart, Lyons and Coulon were all Tri Deltas too.

“This one is a little more meaningful,” Hern said. “This one is really, for me, about the kids and the journey…This is just a little part that I feel like I can help them.”

Runners are given the opportunity to fundraise for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. So far Hern has raised $250, Ferrell has raised $300 and Lyons has raised $575.

Lyons, who is originally from Memphis, said this is her first half marathon ever.

“This is the perfect race to start with and it’s definitely a motivating factoring when you’re running and you’re tired. If the kids can do it, you can,” she said.

Ferrell said this race would be her first full marathon. However, she has run in three half marathons in the past 14 months.

“I actually didn’t start running until three years ago. I could not run a mile without stopping,” Ferrell said. “If you would have said three years ago I would be doing this this weekend I would have laughed and said you’re crazy.”

Ferrell turned 35 in May and said, not completely seriously, she was going to run a marathon this year. Her sister-in-law Gray held Ferrell to her word and promised to be by her side by signing up for this race.

The women don’t have a goal time they wish to complete the race. They just strive to finish. Both Hearn and Ferrell said they would have to fight their emotions while running as hospital patients will line the race route to cheer on the racers.

“I know several people that have run it and everybody says the race environment is just amazing and quite emotional,” Ferrell said, adding thinking about it has been a inspiring to her while training.

Lyons said her goal is just to be motivational to her fellow runners. She is looking forward to wearing the T-shirts the group made and being with her friends in an effort to support a good cause.