Westminster Senior Runs Marathon, Raises More than $1,000 for ALS Association
BY JIM MALVEN
The Columns covers Kyle Collins’s April 10 marathon and the months leading up to it.
After hours of bitter winds and biting cold in downtown St. Louis, breezes calmed and the temperature rose to nearly 60 degrees. It would begin to rain shortly, but for now, the only water in sight came from the eyes of Elaine Collins. Tears of joy rolled down her cheeks after watching her son, Kyle, cross the finish line.
It was the morning of Sunday, April 10, and Kyle had just run 26.2 miles in the 2016 Go! St. Louis Marathon.
A senior at Westminster, Kyle Collins said he made the decision four years ago to run a marathon before graduating. He said that he had “a lot of things going on” in his life last semester and needed to focus his attention on something:
“And so, I decided I was going to focus myself on running a marathon — something I was going to do for myself, to better myself, to just show that I am an independent person, and I want to strive to be the best that I can be,” he said.
Elaine said that Kyle announced his decision to her last November.
“He told me around Thanksgiving, and I said ‘Go for it!’” she said. “I knew he could do it, and as a mother, I was glad he realized he could do it.”
Kyle’s father, Michael, said he “did not know what to think.”
“Having watched his older brother, I knew how much training was involved,” he stated.
Elaine, however, said she always thought Kyle would run one.
She said that Kyle began walking at nine months old and running at 12 months and added that he has always been competitive and physically active.
According to Kyle’s parents, the same is true for all five of their children. They all played soccer and tennis in high school; all ski and rock climb; four have run regularly at some point; three have run marathons, and Keith, Kyle’s second-oldest brother at 32 years old, has completed a handful of triathlons and Iron Man Triathlons.
Elaine, Michael and Virginia Collins, Kyle’s paternal grandmother, also used to run.
“We all love sports, and we have a lot of runners in the family,” Elaine said.
Soon after Kyle made his announcement, he began preparing his body to run 26.2 miles. Kyle had always run as part of the sports he played, but he had never dedicated himself to just running, let alone running a marathon.
He said that his approach was to slowly build up endurance. He started by running three to five miles every weekday morning at 6:30 and running six to seven miles on Saturday and Sunday. From there, he gradually increased his weekday distance to four to six miles and did progressively longer runs on the weekends. He topped out at 18 miles, when he ran an ultimate endurance test two weeks before the race.
“Eighteen was just to test my body,” he said. “It was two weeks before, to see if I could actually do it, if I was ready for it, and I was able to do the 18, so I figured I was able to do the marathon.”
As a member of Westminster’s men’s tennis team, Kyle also ran across courts, lifted weights and performed additional abdominal exercises.
Living in a fraternity house with a cook, Kyle had some, but not unlimited, food options.
He started his weekday mornings with a pre-run power bar, and after returning, had a breakfast of two scrambled eggs with avocados, tomatoes, peppers, onions and spinach.
Lunches and dinners depended on the menu, but he tried to keep a few things consistent. He said that he ate a salad with every lunch and dinner and tried to avoid consuming too many carbohydrates until later in the week, when he would need them for long runs. He also focused on getting ample amounts of protein and staying away from sweets.
In the months leading up to his race, Kyle not only ran miles, he also ran a philanthropy campaign, in conjunction with Phi Delta Theta’s organization Iron Phi.
Iron Phi is an incentive-based program exclusive to members of Phi Delta Theta that encourages members like Kyle to be physically active and raise money for the ALS Association, which is working to find a cure for the progressive neurodegenerative disease known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS. Members who raise at least $1,000 and complete an “Iron Phi event,” such as swimming, biking or running for an extended period of time, are recognized as an Iron Phi and enjoy certain benefits.
Even if a member raises fewer than $1,000, all funds still go to the ALS Association, but Kyle reached and surpassed the $1,000 mark, finishing with a total of $1,033.73.
“I am very proud of my fraternity, and two of my fellow fraternity brothers are Iron Phis,” Kyle said. “It’s really something that I wanted to do, and if I was going to put all this work and dedication towards running a marathon, if I can raise money at the same time for [the] ALS [Association], then that is definitely something I should do.”
But raising funds is only half of becoming an Iron Phi. Kyle still had to put that work and dedication to use.
After five months of training and a month and a half of campaigning, race day finally came.
“I was nervous like anybody would be nervous, but it was kind of like a nervous excitement, you’re like super excited, like ‘The day is finally here,’” Kyle said.
“I honestly don’t know if I slept [the night] before,” he continued. “All I remember is just lying in my bed and thinking about the next day, and I would just be in my bed. I don’t really remember sleeping and then waking up.”
At 4:45 a.m., Kyle got out bed, had a cup of coffee, a bagel and a banana, and he and his parents stepped outside into the darkness.
Two hours later, Kyle was in his corral, his designated area behind the start line. He said that he was a little chilly before the race and focused on stretching and moving around to keep warm. But mostly, he was “just ready to go.”
At 7:01 a.m., in 46-degree weather, Kyle crossed the start line at the intersection of Market and 15th streets in downtown St. Louis. He and the 1,338 other full marathon runners headed east, crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois. Kyle then came back across the river, wound through and around St. Louis and finally finished near the start line.
For the first 11 miles, Kyle kept a 7:40 mile pace, but he eventually learned that the 7:40 pace-setter was running the half marathon, so he slowed to an eight-minute pace to conserve energy for the next 15 miles.
Kyle said that he felt “really good” and “felt great about keeping pace and everything” until Mile 17, when the course headed into Forest Park.
“There were just a lot of uphills and downhills, and my body started feeling it a little bit,” he said.
Around Mile 21, on his way out of Forest Park, Kyle said he began to experience shooting pain in his calf. But a few miles later, his adrenaline kicked in, and he was able to somewhat ignore the pain the rest of the way.
“‘You have like [fewer] than two miles left; you can do this,’” he recalled saying to himself.
After running almost a nine-minute 24th mile, Kyle sped up and finished the race alongside the eight-minute pacer, who had caught up to him.
“When I saw the finish line, I was just like ‘Okay, this is the last little push,’” he said. “I was in so much pain.”
His hands in the air, Kyle crossed the finish line at 10:31 a.m. with a time of 3:29:40. Kyle had run a marathon and become an Iron Phi.
Moments after Kyle finished his race, Elaine’s tears began to flow.
“I am an emotional person, so I cry sometimes,” she said. “My son makes me cry all the time. I was crying from the joy and pride he gives me. I am blessed and so thankful to have him as my son.”
Meanwhile, Kyle met up with his parents and other supporters, donned an Iron Phi T-Shirt, completion medal and Phi Delta Theta flag and sat down against a chain-link fence.
“I’m glad to be done,” he said, smiling.
However, when asked the next day if he is going to run another marathon, Kyle replied, “For sure.”
Looking back, Kyle called his race “an incredible experience.”
“I would highly, highly recommend anybody to strive to push themselves in this way, whether it is with the half marathon or a marathon, whatever they want to do,” he said.
Michael Collins said that the race was “fun to watch” but “actually seemed surreal, as Kyle usually plays team sports.”
Elaine reiterated that watching Kyle run the marathon made her very proud.
“He has overcome so many challenges in his life, and those challenges have made him strong,” she said. “A marathon is so much more than 26 miles. It is setting a personal goal and doing what is necessary to accomplish it — the discipline of getting up and running every day, working through injuries and a busy college schedule, mentally not giving up or getting distracted from your goal.”
Kyle said that there were times in his training when he doubted his abilities, including when he pulled a hamstring or one of his quadriceps or when he felt increasingly nervous as race day approached. He said what kept him going in training was the confidence he gained from running the 18 miles and that he pushed himself during the race by thinking about all the work he put he had put in.
He added that he could not have accomplished his goal without the support of his friends and family members, especially Chris and Keith Collins, his two oldest brothers, who are also marathon runners.
Going into the marathon, Kyle wanted to finish the race in no more than three hours and 30 minutes, a time he beat by 20 seconds.
“I was pretty happy with my performance for sure,” he said. “It’s definitely something I want to improve upon, but for a first-time marathon run, I would say it was a good run.”
According to Michael, Kyle has inspired Elaine to participate in a trail run series in St. Louis, and Kyle and Keith are planning to train for the Boston Marathon.
Jim Malven is a member of Phi Delta Theta.