Runner Spotlight: Kevin Cunningham

When did you begin running and why?

I didn’t start running until my 40s. In high school and college, I was a scrawny 170 pounds (I am six feet five inches tall). In my late 20s I put on 50 pounds, which was fine. In my late 30s, after the birth of my daughters, I put on another 50 pounds, which was definitely not fine. I started running shortly after that.

How did you find out about DCRRC and when did you join?

I started running in 2008, did a couple of 5Ks including the DCRR New Year’s Day Race, and my neighbor, Gary Morgans, told me that DCRR also had a group of runners who ran longer distances from Iwo Jima that I might want to consider joining. Shortly thereafter, I proceeded down there. And I was so not ready to long run; I showed up in a cotton T-shirt and tennis shoes that I wore around the house.

The SLR director at the time, Kristin Dahling, asked the group if there was anyone new, and gesturing toward me said “You sir, you look new; tell us your name.” Another runner looked me over somewhat sympathetically and said “You really should consider wearing a technical shirt.” I had no idea what she meant by a so-called “technical” shirt. I still run with that runner, Cecile Amos, on occasion today.

For the record, we were running the Arlington Triangle that day, 16 miles in all, consisting of five out to the airport, seven or so more to the Custis Trail interchange, and four miles in. The one thing I did do that day that was very smart was bring a metro card with me on my run; I made it as far as the airport, five miles in all, and rode back to Rosslyn.

What are you training for right now?

No marathons on the agenda, or even a half. I have only a few more years before my oldest daughter goes off to college, so I want to spend as much time with her as possible. It will likely be Lawyers Have Heart in June (with some of my colleagues from work), a few runs as part of the Bunion Derby this summer, and maybe the Army Ten this fall.

What is the toughest run or race you’ve ever participated in?
The [INSERT ANY RACE NAME HERE] Marathon. I’ve signed up for six marathons, made it to the start line in five of them, and to the finish line in four of those. I think any marathon on the planet is such a tough race; I have the utmost respect for that race distance and anyone who succeeds in running it (or longer). I have suffered from a stress fracture before one race, which kept me from even getting to the start line; hypothermia in another, which kept me from finishing; and ended up in the medical tent at the finish in a couple of the others with various ailments. In 2015, I put it all together, running personal bests across the board with a 21:56 in the 5K, 47:36 in the 10K, 1:15 at the Army Ten, 1:45 for a half marathon, and 3:49 at Marine Corps. It was a 25 minute PR for me in the marathon, so I was very pleased.

What’s your favorite part about being a DCRRC member?

The long run pairings in the marathon training program force me to be a listener, which I am terrible at. If you broached most of the subjects that are discussed on a long run with me in the ordinary course of a day, I would probably think to myself “My god, why in the world would you think that I’d be even remotely interested in hearing that?” But you have a two to three hour void to fill in a marathon training long run, and you are happy to entertain just about any conversation piece to pass the time. And it forces you to be a listener. And there have been times when I’ve listened to what is going on with other runners and thought to myself “Well, I might be able to help you with that.” So from these runs, I have helped people with their cover letters and resumes, conducted mock job interviews over the phone with their college-age children, and written letters to businesses on their behalf asking for restitution. I do not mean to suggest that I am solely a giver either; I have benefitted reciprocally as well.

What’s your favorite route in the area?

I like the trails that go through areas that some might consider to be suffering from urban blight; specifically, the MBT trail, which runs up northeast DC to Michigan Avenue, and the Southeast DC run, which runs along the waterfront, out to the baseball stadium, and then north along the Anacostia. Because of my size, personal safety is, relatively speaking, less of an issue for me on these runs than for others, and these trails tend to bring me into areas where I otherwise would not go, create what is hopefully positive interaction between people from different backgrounds, and offer opportunities for the local residents to themselves engage in running without going far from their homes.

What’s the most important lesson running has taught you?

I think the long run, when you do it by yourself, focuses you on what is important in life. Forrest Gump summarized his long runs across the country by saying “When I’d run, I’d think about [his mother and a various assortment of friends that were very important to him, and how his relationship with them have changed over the years].” I think that is exactly right. When you long run by yourself, you think about what is in fact important to you. And just like Gump, I usually end up taking stock of the decisions I have made, how those decisions, good or bad, have affected the people that are important to me, and how I can make better decisions going forward. In the hustle-bustle of everyday life, I tend to focus on relatively meaningless things like that car repair I need to do or the fact that my dry cleaner ruined my shirt. The long run helps me cut through that stuff.

What race day traditions do you have?

I used to run/walk to the Metro, which is near my house and which I would take to the race. I am so sorry to see that the Metro is no longer opening early on the days of the major races in the area. This new policy has enriched the taxi services, which I understand charge so-called surge pricing during these hours and has driven up the real cost of these races for a lot of runners very significantly. Hopefully, after the Safe Track program has ended, Metro will start opening early again, and I can resume my beloved tradition again.

What’s your proudest running moment?
I have been running SLR since 2007, when my oldest daughter was five years old. So she has watched me head out to runs on most Saturday mornings for a good part of her life. Recently, she took up cross-country in high school, and after the season was over, she asked if she could start joining me on Saturday mornings at Iwo Jima. I was thrilled, and the first time I brought her and Rich [Mendelowitz] asked if there were any new runners, and her hand shot up, I was so incredibly proud. The problem, in hindsight, was that they run only 5Ks in cross-country, and it was a bit too steep of a jump for her to undertake the ten or eleven mile run at SLR without any incremental runs (see my own experience above). So she ended up injuring her Achilles and needed to get fitted for a boot. But that’s a whole different story.

What’s your life like outside of running?

If I was administering this survey, I would append to this question “Circle which of the following applies: I (i) have a very understanding significant other or (ii) am single.” Marathon training, as you know, takes a lot of time, and most marathon runners, based on my experience, fit into either of those two categories. I am fortunate to have a very understanding spouse, Emily, who I met shortly after I graduated from law school. I also have two wonderful daughters, Caroline and Charlotte. For work, I am a tax lawyer. And, mercifully, that’s all I usually tell them about what I do.

What is one thing you wouldn’t run without?

A year ago or so, I’d would have said my watch. But it broke, and I have not yet purchased a new one, so now I do in fact run without a watch. I read these write-ups regularly, and a very good (and nice) runner who was featured here, Bethany Fahey (now Britz) answered that “[o]ne thing I wouldn’t run without would be my shoes. I’ve seen runners run barefoot, and I have no interest in that….. at all.” I thought that was a very funny answer, and so true. Can I plagiarize her answer.