Runners of the Month – Stephanie Spann and John Lovell

Stephanie Spann
Stephanie Spann
As I was clicking through the Facebook photos of this month’s female NRCer, I loved this one (see left) of her at the Josh Byers 10k last Memorial Day, but there was one photo that made me stop in my tracks.  It’s a cold and cloudy April day in Carmel, Indiana and she and her good friend have just crossed the finish line of their first full marathon; a marathon, I might add, that she has “danced” her way through one hilarious photo opp. and one port-o-potty at a time!  While many NRCers are currently training for their first full, it is only fitting that our female runner be the inspirational and magnetic Miss Stephanie Spann!

Stephanie a.k.a. “Cupcake” is as sweet as her nickname, given to her after NRCers got wind of her working at a local 62646_10151347078076086_365640991_ncupcakery last summer.  Stephanie ended up bringing cupcakes to nearly everyone in the club at some point or time and although she’s not sure who exactly coined it first, she’s glad it stuck.  I’d say it suits her sunny disposition and penchant for sparkle.  Don’t underestimate her though, she may be a little petite thing, but she can recite every line to that epic rom-com featuring a fellow, feisty blond, You’ve Got Mail!

Born in Long Beach, CA, Stephanie actually grew up on an 86-acre dairy farm in her hometown of Manchester, TN.  There she discovered her first love – dogs!  Among their other four-legged friends, her family had two collie mixes that stayed outside and two schnauzers that rounded up the folks indoors.  Grown and wanting a dog of her own, she adopted her first dachshund in February 2005.  She fell in love with the breed and even became a volunteer for the All American Dachshund Rescue.  She and her husband, Russ, currently have two  “doxies” and one schnauzer who are their “kids” and keep them constantly entertained.

It wasn’t until August 2011 that she found out about our little running club from The Other Place Running Crew’s main man, Jamie Shea, who was spending Wednesday nights with NRC.  She had just moved to Nolensville and so it was a good way to get out and meet new people.  I was lucky enough to meet her one of those nights and it was obvious she wasn’t going to have any problems making friends!

If you have met Stephanie, you know that she is a quick wit, extremely motivated and always up for a challenge.  It was no different in 2010, just a year before coming to NRC, when she made it her New Year’s resolution to run a half marathon!  A newbie to the whole running thing, she said that she knew nothing going into it, but that it was probably a good thing.  Ignorance is bliss, right?  That is until you decide to do the Country Music Half Marathon as your first race!  Ouch, but she did it!

Now an accomplished runner and racer, Stephanie is almost always in her running shoes.  It’s a good thing she has what most of us would consider our dream job at Fleet Feet, so she can stay stocked up on gear!  Speaking of gear, her favorite running accessory is her Yurbuds when she’s running with music, but she also loves her Garmin 410.  She can’t run without it.

Seriously though, she’s a perfect fit for our favorite running store.  I don’t think Stephanie has ever met a stranger and she is always going out of her way to help others.  When asked about how her work has helped her she explained, “I get to talk to people about running, all day, every day.  I especially love talking to new runners.  Each and every thing I learn there helps me become a better runner.”  Another one of her favorite things to do is to help out at running events, like the race EXPOs and at support tables for actual races. Her cheerleading past has come in handy more than a few times as she has urged runners on while working the water table!  She is currently a coach for their No Boundaries training program.  She says she loves coaching the beginning runners and I’m sure they love having someone like her to encourage them through their training.

There’s way more to Stephanie than just running!  In fact, she was brave enough to offer up a few things that most people don’t know about her that may surprise you.  For example, she has applied to be on the reality TV show, Survivor, twice!  Not surprised yet, how about the fact that she has auditioned for the Titans cheerleading squad and almost made it, but they said she wasn’t tall enough?!  Still, need more?  OK, during her youth on the farm she showed Brown Swiss cows.  Yep, not just any cows, Brown Swiss cows… and she holds the honor of being crowned the first ever Tennessee Brown Swiss Queen!  Oh yeah, baby!

This girl has run some races since seeing her resolution through in 2010.  From 5Ks and 10Ks to halves and her first full in Carmel, Indiana plus a few relays for good measure, she has an impressive collection of race bibs and finisher medals.  She even got to meet training guru, Jeff Galloway, at the Iron Horse Half in KY, but her favorite race so far is the TN Ragnar Relay.  It is unlike any other race and she loves the energy, laughter and excitement you have for your teammates.  She has been chosen as a 2014 Ragnar Ambassador; so let her know if you have any questions about how you can share in this incredible experience.

Without any swaying at all, (wink wink) Stephanie thinks NRC is the coolest running club on the planet.  When I asked her why she loves running with the club, she said, “How could I not think it is the coolest?  With my husband’s crazy work schedule, my NRC friends are like my family.  I absolutely love all of the friendships I have formed and I love that we all do things outside of running, too.  We are TRULY more than a running club.”

Thanks for inspiring us, encouraging us, and being a big part of what makes NRC such a special crew, Stephanie!  Congratulations, Cupcake!

John Lovell

Our male NRCer of the Month is as easygoing as he is indefatigable.  Chatting with him over a post-run coffee, you might never suspect the extent of his drive and athleticism.  I know I was surprised to learn that while he has been a regular with the NRC Saturday morning crew for several years, it was not so long ago that his journey brought him to a critical crossroads.  Had our friend, John Lovell, decided not to take the hard road, I would be telling a completely different story, or perhaps no story at all.  But, he did, and now he has such an inspiring story to share.

John was born in Nashville, but grew up in Hermitage, TN.  As a student at DuPont High School, he excelled at running the ½ mile in track, winning 1st in his district and 2nd in the region.  He also played football his junior year, switching to compete as part of the highly competitive cross-country team his senior year.  After high school, he attended Tennessee Tech and upon graduation set to work as a mechanical engineer.

John beforeWith his busy career and caring for his family, finding time to get active became lower on “the list” and he slowly started to gain weight.  Over time, John says his unhealthy habits had taken their toll, until finally one day – it hit him.  He had reached his highest weight ever at 220 lbs. (see photo) and was facing moving up, yet again, to a bigger pant size.  John knew he had to make a change. Having lost both of his parents to poor health in their 50’s and with his son and daughter-in-law preparing to have his first grandchild, he made a promise to himself that he would get healthy and be there to see his grandchildren grow up!

To start him on the road to getting fit, John joined the YMCA and did elliptical and weight workouts.  As the weight came off, he became even more motivated.  He then got into cycling, where he continued to find ways to increase his strength and endurance.  One of his favorite rides was the 2004 Three State Three Mountain.  This 100-mile race takes you up and down 3 mountains — Suck Creek, Sand and Lookout, in 3 states – Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia.  John says he is glad that he went from cycling to running, because it built up his leg muscles and allowed him to transition to running without injury.

He competed in his first full at the 2006 Country Music Marathon.  He went out to race the event (a concept that I can still not quite wrap my head around!) and started strong, but says he basically made all the rookie mistakes.  For example, he made a last minute decision to wear new shoes, which blistered his feet by mile 13, and he went out too fast at the start.

SnoopyThe pictures from this event tell a thousand words, as every few miles after about the 18 mark, John’s head falls further and further back – a compensation to keep him upright since his leg muscles were giving out.  A friend summed it – he was doing the Snoopy! He crossed the finish line with a time of 3:10 just as two nurses caught him before he collapsed.  After a long month of recuperation, John continued to set running goals.

John afterHis hard work truly had transformed him into an incredible athlete and in 2008, John had his most memorable marathon experience at the Country Music.  This time he trained smarter and learned from his race day mistakes.  He crossed the finish at a dead sprint (see photo) and still had some left in the tank.  He ran it in 2:49 and even set the state marathon record for age 50!!!

With times like that, it’s not surprising that John has also participated in the Boston Marathon twice.  His first was in 2007 and the conditions were rough.  In 2009 the conditions were much better and John finished with a time of 2:52.  When I asked him how he approached this race, he said, “Every marathon has a strategy all its own.”  In Boston, the first 9 miles are downhill.  Sounds great, right?  Well, not so much when your legs start rebelling because you didn’t have a strategy to make it to the end and the dream-crushing Heartbreak Hill.  On that note, I think he has his strategy down for the Mount Desert Island Marathon in Bar Harbor, ME since he qualified for Boston again there last October (3:28)!

John got wind of NRC from a friend and started running with the Saturday crew back in the fall of 2010.  Becoming fast friends, literally, with many of our speedy NRCers, he remembers being honored to train and pace Megan Brazill to her first Boston qualification, as well as to run with the crew in Boston in 2013.  He has also volunteered as a pace leader for the Country Music Half.  Having accomplished incredible goals since his original promise to get healthy, John now finds himself looking for more ways to help others reach their potential.

Seeking some of his kindhearted wisdom, I asked John for a few training tips and he said:

  • He puts a lot of emphasis on heart rate, as often runners fail to incorporate easy runs into their training and always run at a max heart rate.  He stressed the importance of doing both speed work and slow runs to really strengthen your heart for the long run.
  • To first time marathoners: put in the mileage, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
  • Always hydrate 3-4 days before and he suggests eating 3 hours before your long runs (his favorite is oatmeal and coffee).
  • Plan out your strategy – gear, nutrition, pace, and stick with it.
  • He likes to Gu early in the race – his heart rate is lower and he always drinks at every water stop no matter what.

I also asked him about his favorite recovery trick and he said when he ran the Marine Corp Marathon they were going for a Guinness World Record of most massages given in one place.  Since they had to keep massaging until all the runners could come in and get to the tables, he ended up getting an hour and a half massage.  (That works!)

A man of many talents, John has some interesting hobbies.  He loves woodworking and among his many projects, has created wooden frames with laser-engraved NRC logos!  They are so cool!  He also has 2 beehives and his own hydroponic garden filled with veggies, greens and grapes.  Look out Arrington.  He has even made his own wine!

Well, cheers to you, John!  On behalf of all our NRCers, we’re so glad our roads crossed and look forward to many miles ahead!