I thought I’d try something a little different this time around – a husband and wife interview. While that makes it twice as long, hopefully it makes it twice as interesting. Kurt and Sonya (formerly Anderson) Decker have been married for nearly a year-and-a-half, and they’ve been fixtures in the Twin Cities running community for a lot longer.
Between Kurt and Sonya, this interview has it “all” - an ultra-marathoner, what it’s like to come back after giving birth, a recent Master, juggling family, careers and running, etc. (Photos courtesy of Kurt and Sonya).
When did each of you start running? How’d you get involved?
Kurt: I started running in high school. I was a long time soccer player that decided I needed a change. My best friend Steve Hibbs talked me into it going out for cross-country our junior year of high school.
Sonya: When I was about 18 years old I started regularly doing some running/biking/swimming to stay in shape. I only ran a few days a week back when I started. My mom was doing some triathlons then and sometimes I would join her for part of a run. It took me awhile to get comfortable & actually be able to run 4-6 miles. I started running more after I graduated from college when I got busier. It seemed to be the best bet for fitting exercise into my day within the shortest amount of time (as opposed to trying to get to a pool, etc). I didn’t start racing until my early 30s.
What are your PRs?
Kurt: Well I tend to do much better the longer the race;
Half marathon - 1:11
50 miles 7:35
100 miles 16:08
5k - 18:02
8k - 30:01
10k – 37:17
10 mile – 1:01
Half - 1:22
25k – 1:39
Marathon – 2:51
Let’s see, you guys had a baby, Sonya turned 40 and I believe in the same week, Kurt started new job (moving from Runner’s Edge to Gear) and ran the U.S. 24-hour Championship. I’m sure I’m missing a lot, but I think it’s safe to say it has been a busy year. Any thoughts on 2006?
Kurt: Yep it was busy!! But it was great!! We are looking forward to 2007 in many ways.
Sonya: No wonder we are tired!! I definitely enjoyed the later part of the year more with the arrival of our son and with finally feeling better. We had lots of big changes last year & in 2005 – that’s for sure.
Sonya, how was your training prior to Evan’s birth at the end of July?
Well, I don’t think I would call it training, but I did run every day of the pregnancy. That wasn’t what I planned and I was surprised that I actually made it to the end, but each day I would think that this wasn’t going to be the day that I give up & sit on the couch. So it was truly a one-day-at-a-time kind of thing.
Did you do any cross-training to stay fit?
No, I hate cross training. I ran a minimum of 30 minutes a day with one run of at least an hour and a half on the weekend up until Evan was born. I can get kind of stubborn about things. I did receive many suggestions (even from complete strangers who saw me running) about switching to swimming or walking, but since neither my doctor nor husband had objections, I kept going.
How quickly were you able to resume training?
I was frustrated with this part, because I planned to run right away like I did after my daughter was born, but this time my doctor was advising no impact for 6 weeks due to some complications during the labor. Since she mentioned the word surgery, and I trusted her as not being just another one of those “stop running” doctors, I listened and waited (for the most part).
I got on the elliptical daily and limited myself to running 1-2 times per week for a very short distance. By the end of the 6 weeks when I got the go ahead, I was more than ready to get out there again! For one of my first runs, I ended up running with the Gear group & getting kind of lost/confused about how far we were going, so it ended up being about 2:30. The next week I figured I could survive City of Lakes 25K if I made it that far the previous weekend.
I know you squeezed in some races towards the end of 2006, including a victory at the Freedom 10 mile in 1:05:17; however, you missed the heart of the racing season. In addition to having a baby, you became a Master, so you must be twice as eager to tear up the racing scene in 2007. What are your racing plans for 2007?
I am anxious to run some races – it was fun to be able to participate in the TC 10 and WBL 10, but yes, the season was pretty much over just when I was starting to feel stronger again. I got really bored running (jogging would be more accurate) while pregnant, because of doing the same thing pretty much every day. I really missed the variety of doing specific workouts, really long runs, etc. So it has been fun to mix it up again and to be able to push myself.
Thanks for mentioning the masters part [laughs]. It will be nice to help out our team if I can for some races, but it wasn’t like I was looking forward to it because of changing age groups, placing higher, etc. I don’t really get that thinking – for me it’s more about that I want to run certain times or at least within a range of where I think I’m at – not about where I place based on age. What I am trying to say is that I feel like I’m competing more with myself and the clock, than with whoever is at a particular race.
Any particular goals you’d like to achieve?
Hopefully finish an ultra this spring – as long as I can continue to train & still nurse Evan, I will give it a go. So far so good (he’s over 19 pounds already)! I also plan to hit the team races as much as possible and get a marathon in at some point.
Do you have a favorite local race? Why?
Kurt: my favorite local race was the Easy Does it 5 mile, but that is gone now. There are many other great races that is for sure. I like many of the Sporting Life races.
Sonya: Anything 15k or over is a favorite of mine. That’s where my comfort zone starts.
Kurt, as you approached the finish line of the Guidant 10K, you could be heard mumbling something about “sticking to ultras.” What do you “enjoy” the most about ultras?
Well good question. There are many things that come to mind. A few of them would be things like the mental journey one goes on in those races. At the end of a race I really feel like I learn a lot about myself. The scenery on the trails is most spectacular as well!
What’s your favorite ultra distance and your favorite race? Why?
On one hand I would say the 50 mile since you can push pretty hard much like you might in a marathon. But more than anything I would have to go with the 100 mile. Words cannot describe all you go through in one of those things. As for my favorite race, Western States 100 in California would take the cake as for now. There is reason they have a lottery to get into it. A lottery for a 100 mile race? How crazy is that.
In November, you ran the U.S. 24-hour Championships in Texas. Can you tell us a little about the race, like; what was your goal, how’d the race progress and what were your results?
I went there with one goal and that was to place in the top 6 and get over 135 mile so I could make the USA team for this year’s World Championships. Training for the race went okay for the most part, but not super great. I still felt like I had a good chance of reaching my goal. The weather was pretty good. The course was much more hilly than I thought it would be. Most of these timed races are on real flat courses. I thought the hills could be a problem.
I felt real good through the 75 mile mark. I was on pace. Then my worries about the hills came true. Like on a dime, my legs went down hill real fast. I am sure it had a lot to do with my lack of hill strength. I ended up calling it a day after 16 hours and 88 miles. I was not going to make the team and I figured “live to fight another day.” It was a tough decision but I feel it was the right one
I’ve crewed for one ultra runner and it’s harder than it looks. Rumor has it your mom is the ultimate crew. Is that true and what’s her secret?
Yea tell me about it. I have done it a few times. Yea my Mom is very good at it. I think she is very focused on what I might need. Like she puts herself into my shoes. Now with Sonya who is also a champ at it, I have the world’s best crew. I am very lucky.
What are your race plans and goals for 2007?
I am still putting things together but I am leaning, in a way, towards the Leadville trail 100 in August. But I will be at all the other races like Trail Mix 50k and Ice Age 50 mile to name a few.
Sonya, I first met you at the 2005 Winter Carnival Half Marathon. With the out-and-back course, it seemed like about 100 people cheered for you during the second half of the race. How does it feel to be such a Rock Star?
Ha! I think it just means that I am getting older and have been around for a while now. I consider myself lucky to have been able to do something I love so much and meet so many great people along the way.
There was a great article in the October/November issue of Twin Cities Sports on women’s running. It mentioned that you started the Gear Racing Team. What year was that and what was your motivation?
Actually it was kind of a team merger of sorts in 2000. We had a growing group of women on our original team and weren’t happy with our team affiliation, so we were going to do something on our own and go without a sponsor. We just wanted to keep our group together and have it be a real positive environment. Around that time, Mike McCollow, the owner of Gear Running Store contacted me because he was looking to expand the store’s racing team. He was willing to take on our whole group, regardless of people’s times or any other criteria, so it worked out well for all of us. He has been enthusiastic about the racing team and we have appreciated his support.
My original motivation to find more women for our team was that there were only a few of us, not enough to score, so I started trying to recruit. I really didn’t know anyone at races back then and I wanted to meet other women to run/train with, too. Once Laurie Hanscom and Joelle Nelson joined us, we really started to form the core group that is still the heart of Gear. I think those 2 women have probably set a record for running the most team races [laughs]. They have also helped by encouraging other women to join us, as have many of our teammates who are always on the lookout!
Given that you’ve increased the team from 5 to 40 runners and have won the last two team titles in the local road racing circuit, I assume you’re happy with how the team has evolved?
Yes, it’s been great to grow and become more competitive. But the best part is that so many great people have connected and formed lifelong friendships.
Did any of the Gear people give you a hard time for marrying someone from Runner’s Edge? What about you Kurt, anyone at Runner’s Edge give you a hard time? Since you’re both with Gear now, I guess it doesn’t matter.
Sonya: I think it helped that we weren’t really directly competing against each other with Edge having the large men’s team, versus Gear having more women. There was some good-natured flack that went back & forth (even between the 2 of us!) At Hennepin Lakes Classic this year, we came out to watch when Evan was only about 10 days old. We were debating about whether he was cheering for Edge or Gear, when Erin Ward chimed in and said that she was sure he was routing for Run ‘n Fun!
Kurt: Well a bunch of them did give me a hard time, in the nice sort of way. I was glad Sonya had her great group and would have never asked her to give it up. But yea, now we are all one BIG happy family. It’s funny how things can work out.
What are your training philosophies and/or are there any certain programs you tend to follow?
Kurt: I think for the most part the Pete Pfitzinger books are great. Solid plans and ideas for all types of runners. Other than that I love picking other runners brains for ideas. I have gotten lots of stuff from my good friend Patrick Russell.
Sonya: I like some of Jack Daniels stuff. Mostly I am just a big believer in the hard/easy philosophy. I like pretty high mileage, too. Not because I think that is the answer for everyone, but because I like to run lots of miles & that is usually how I run best across the distances, including the short stuff (ugh).
How have you had to adjust your training schedules with Evan around?
Kurt: Yea it is still a work in progress with him and the two older girls, Kyra (10) and Summer (8). But so far so good. When it gets warmer out it should be much easier because we will use our baby jogger a whole bunch.
Sonya: Lots!! Since I am nursing and planning to continue, that is always a factor to figure in with timing and run preparation. We are also trying to juggle around Kyra’s and Summer’s schedules. Kurt and I try to find ways to switch off so we both get out – sometimes literally with one running in the house and the other one running out. He has been extremely supportive about trying to help me find time to train, to the point of sacrificing a lot of his own running right now. It will get easier in the spring when Evan can be in the baby jogger with us.
What is a typical training week like for you, in-season (i.e. mpw, types of hard workouts, etc.)?
Kurt: For the most part, like 70-85 miles per week. I like hills and tempo work on the roads the best. I also like the long trail runs (30+ miles) with my friends.
Sonya: I don’t think there is a “typical” for me anymore, because I have to just take opportunities where I can find them. What I have done in the past for marathon training (which has usually been the focus for me) is to run somewhere between 70-100 miles per week with 2 hard workouts per week, one tempo-type and one interval-type.
What is your training like during this time of year?
Kurt: I am behind schedule as for now. I normally like to hit between 60-70 during this time of the year.
Sonya: I have a lot of shorter days due to lack of time, but am managing to get at least one pretty long one in on the weekend and am trying to do something faster at least once per week. I am trying to be careful about not forcing things too much, like when I feel really tired, just backing off and waiting for a better day.
Do you have a favorite workout?
Kurt: I love doing ski hill repeats at Hyland Hills ski area.
Sonya: Anything longer – longer tempos, intervals, etc. I like going for long runs with a tempo in the middle to break it up & make me really appreciate the warm-down! My favorite kind of run is going for about 3 hours on the trails.
Do you have a least favorite workout?
Kurt: Mile repeats.
Sonya: Anything shorter.
Who do you enjoy training with the most?
Kurt: There are so many people to mention. Paul Holovnia, my trail buddy, and all of the Gear runners for sure. Plus there is nothing like the time I get to spend running with Sonya. It is what brought us together.
Sonya: This is a tough one because there are so many people I love to run with. My Gear teammates are great! I love the Saturday store runs.
More specifically, I love to run with Kurt and am missing that since we don’t have much chance these days. Trail runs with Kurt and our ultra-buddy, Paul Holovnia are the best! Both of these guys are so positive and such tough athletes that I always hope it will rub off on me. Whenever I get whiny, I think about the amazing things that they have done, whether it’s running a 24-hour race or 100 miles or whatever, and that quickly makes me suck it up. Seeing what kind of athlete Kurt is, like watching him at FANS [24-hour race] and other races, inspires me to try to be a better one.
Heather Giesen is one of my best friends and training partners – we have spent lots of miles and celebrated/suffered lots together. I respect her athletic ability & incredibly upbeat attitude, and it helps that we train alike (high mileage with hard/easy runs). It is great to know that as a training partner she is going to really push during a workout and then truly go easy on a recovery day.
I also really appreciate Joelle Nelson, as someone who is such a positive person and talented/speedy - she will also adjust her pace and be flexible. The people mentioned above were the ones who hung in there with me during pregnancy and would actually slow down to run my snail’s pace! I sure appreciated the company because it definitely got lonely.
Last, but not least, I enjoy running with our girls, and now with Evan. It has been fun to take him out on a few of the warmer days in the baby jogger. He was my constant training partner for 9 months, so it only seems right when we are running together again [laughs].
If you could run with any Minnesotan (past or present), who would it be?
Kurt: Other than my normal running partners (which I am oh so lucky to have). I would pick Scott Jurek. I got to run a bit with him a few years ago in a race, but would love to have a full long run to talk and pick his brain on ultra-running.
Sonya: Bev Docherty – she is amazing! Anyone that can qualify for the marathon trials every time over all the years, and do it while balancing family and work, has my utmost respect.
What do you wish you’d known when you first started running?
Kurt: I am glad I did not know anything. The journey has been the best part.
Sonya: I’m going to answer this about racing – and that is to fully appreciate those PRs & breakthrough performances, rather than too quickly jumping to what needs to happen next.
Finally, what’s your fondest running memory?
Kurt: I would pick two. Finishing the Western States 100, it was so hard. Also, the 2005 Edmund Fitz 105k team relay. Sonya and I ran on a winning team together then got married that night on the shores of Lake Superior.
Sonya: I am happy to say that there are too many to mention! I will sum it up by saying that I have these “this is why I run” moments – they can be anything from noticing breathtaking scenery, wildlife spotting, having a great conversation with someone while running, running a strong race, etc. Those moments make all the work or tough times well worth it.