Mirts meets marathon challenge

Sunday, May 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:18 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tonya Mirts hobbled through the halls of Hickman High on Monday.

Mirts, the Kewpies’ girls’ basketball coach, didn’t elicit sympathy from her players, though.

Instead, she endured giggles and teasing.

The jokes stemmed from adoration, rather than animosity.

Mirts and two of her assistant coaches, Courtney Diehl and Janelle Riley, earned the respect because they had driven to Nebraska to run the Lincoln Marathon the day before.

“The players got a kick out of it,” Mirts said. “They were doing some teasing. They were laughing because we put the girls through the same sort of pain before the season.”

Rachel Conrad said she relished the opportunity to see the roles reversed.

“I told them, ‘That is what you get for all the preseasons,’” she said. “I laughed at them and told them, ‘Now you know how we felt.’”

Janae Estil said she had immense respect for her coaches.

“I thought it was awesome,” she said. “I couldn’t do it. Even though they are older, they definitely showed (the players) up. I think anytime they put in that much time and energy is awesome. Plus, they were still able to coach us to a successful season.”

Mirts coached Kewpies to successful record

Mirts coached the Kewpies to a 30-2 record this season and a No. 20 ranking in the final USA Today poll. In the Class 5 state championship game, Hickman lost to St. Joseph’s Academy 56-44.

Mirts ran the 26.2-mile course in 4 hours, 12 minutes and 28 seconds. She averaged 9:43 per mile. Diehl beat Mirts by one second. Riley came through at 3:56:44.

Mirts said the conditions couldn’t have been better.

“The course was flat, but it got kind of windy at the end,” she said. “It was 38 degrees when we started and 48 when we finished. I don’t think a marathoner could ask for better weather.”

Mirts said finishing the marathon gave her a strange feeling.

“It’s kind of surreal,” she said. “I’d wanted to do it for so long. I couldn’t believe I had actually done it, but my body felt it.”

The desire to run a marathon has been a lifelong goal for Mirts, but Julie Goodenough, the Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach, firmly planted the seed when she visited Kewpie Lauren Harris during recruiting. Goodenough had trained for a marathon with two of her former players and told Mirts running was a great stress reliever.

Mirts talked Diehl and Riley into training with her and they decided to run the Lincoln Marathon on May 2 because it came after the basketball season and gave Diehl ample time to recover for her June 18 wedding.

Mirts trained for months

Mirts found a training program on the Internet and followed a 16-week regimen to prepare for the rigors of the race. She also consulted with Christian Reed, a Hickman colleague and fellow runner, for advice. Reed, who has a Ph.D. in health and exercise science, was an All-American in track and cross country at the University of Rochester from 1989-93.

Reed told Mirts her time wasn’t the most important part of her inaugural marathon experience.

“In terms of racing, the most important thing I stressed to them is finishing,” Reed said. “No matter who you are, whether it be an elite Kenyan gazelle or a recovering two pack-a-day smoker who’s only running to win an office bet, the most fundamental goal in marathoning is finishing the race.”

During their training, Mirts, Riley and Diehl averaged about 30 miles per week. They also had two 20-mile runs.

Mirts said the long runs gave the coaches plenty of time to strategize about their team.

“It was great fun for us,” she said. “It also gave us time to think about our personnel, which defenses to set and drills to run in practice. Although it was great to talk about our team, it was also great for our health.”

To save time, Mirts said they would often run early in the morning or late at night. On the day of the state championship game, they left for a 16-mile run at 4:30 a.m. Mirts also had to schedule her running around the activities of her daughters, Karley, 10, and Kelsey, 6.

Mirts’ husband, Doug, Hickman’s athletic director, said that finding the time wasn’t a problem.

“We had to juggle things around a little bit, but we made it work,” he said. “The girls didn’t suffer from mom being out running.”

Diehl, also the Hickman softball coach, said it helped having training partners.

“It makes a big difference when it is 20 below zero and you have two other people waiting on you,” she said. “You don’t want to let them down. I don’t know how Mirts talked us into it.”

Mirts said she hopes her players recognize the importance of exercising after their playing days end.

“I think they thought we were nuts,” she said. “They were proud of us, though, and respected the fact that we put the time in. It demonstrated that we are lifelong exercisers. If you are going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.”

Mirts said though the race went well, she’s not sure whether she will run another marathon anytime soon.

“As far as running another one; maybe someday,” she said. “I’m thinking 10 years from now when my kids are older. This was fun, but I did it and now it’s on to the next thing. I like running, but think I’ll stay with the five- to six-milers.”

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