Richland woman hits pavement for marathons

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- When Kathy Pryor turned 49 four years ago she set a goal -- run a marathon before she reached 50.

The Richland woman had run 10ks in her college days while attending the University of Washington, but never thought she had the speed for a marathon.

"When I first started running, the people who did marathons always seemed to be the really fast people," Pryor said. "Over the past 20 years there's been this big surge in marathoning among people who are slower. It felt like an attainable goal."

She trained on the bike path paralleling the Columbia River, using a headlamp to cut through the early morning dark and rewarded herself with a creamy cinnamon dulce latte after a good run.

The training paid off. Before her birthday goal, Pryor proved that 26.2 miles was not out of reach by completing the Honolulu marathon. Completing her goal left her feeling accomplished, and hungry for more miles.

"I decided I better do one after 50 to prove it wasn't a fluke," she said. So Portland was next and she surprised herself by running a time that qualified her for Boston -- by a margin of four seconds. "I figured, it's not going to get any better than that. I have to do Boston."

And she's just kept running ever since.

On Nov. 7, Pryor, now 53, finished her 11th race, the New York Marathon.

By now, worries about completing a race no longer bother her. "I fret more about the logistics of getting there," Pryor said. She spent the night before the race staring at her cell phone clock, unwilling to sleep until it registered the time change and fell back an hour.

When morning arrived, Pryor was standing at the runners' camp in Staten Island, ready, a good three hours before her wave was called to the starting line.

"It's always good to have a buffer," she said.

A radiation safety professional at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland and president of the National Health Physics Society, she's the type who tracks the mileage on her shoes using a color-coded spreadsheet.

Instead of shuffling through an iPod, Pryor prefers to pass her running time contemplating how to convert the plutonium in nuclear weapons into reactor fuel.

"When I grew up I was always a geek," said Pryor. "I thought to do anything athletic you had to be special. Running has been a chance for me to realize that you don't have to be born fast in order to run. For me, crossing the finish line is always a validation of that."

Running is a part of Pryor's identity now. This year she completed six marathons. She barely needs a reason.

"It used to be that I'd happen to be traveling to a place where a marathon was taking place," said Pryor, who is married and has two sons and a daughter in college. Now, marathons have become her excuse to travel.

A collection of medals hangs on her bulletin board at work, reminding her of the places she's been. Her favorite is shaped like an elk -- Estes Park, Colo. -- another has Mickey Mouse ears.

Somewhere on her board there's a spot for New York.

With more than 45,000 runners from 40 countries -- 289 runners from Washington -- the ING is the largest, most diverse marathon Pryor has ever participated in.

Her trot through the five boroughs was a dose of the New York experience. Immediately out the gate, she was pinned to the starting rail. Mile seven, a passing runner stepped on her foot and continued on without apology.

But she also was flattered by a cheering audience of Hasidic Jews, intrigued by Brooklyn rock music and motivated by a boisterous crowd in Harlem.

She finished with a time of 4:34:10, ahead of the Chilean miner and Subway's Jared Fogle. The feeling of accomplishment still is there. And Pryor's ready for a post-marathon reward.

"There will be zinfandel involved, and dark chocolate."

* Kenan Christiansen used to live in Pasco and is a graduate student at New York University's Department of Journalism, where he studies magazine writing.