Who Runs This Town?

Step lively, Des Moines. Getting fitter can be fun. Runners of all abilities prove just that.

Writer: Karla Walsh
Photographer: Joe Crimmings

DRIVEN TO RUN Jason Laughlin, 44

Goodbye to the Bike: Laughlin is a cyclist and sports teammate by nature. When he moved to Chicago, however, he traded his cycling shoes for sneakers. “Riding a bike in Chicago was like a ‘Hail Mary’—it just felt way too dangerous to ride on the city streets,” he says. “So I pounded the pavement along Lakeshore Drive.” 

He started with just a mile or two. “I slipped on my shoes and saw how far I could go,” he recalls. “It hurt really bad, but I knew it was the only way I could probably stay fit in [that] environment.” Two miles turned into four, which turned into eight. Then he started running races to feed his competitive nature. 

“The crowds are electrifying—the positive energy, the cheering, the clapping,” says Laughlin, who moved to Des Moines in 2005. “Ten-mile races and half-marathons once seemed crazy, but I worked up to it and eventually they felt within reach.” So far, he has completed six marathons, and he’s recently picked up trail running.

Up With the Sun: When the alarm rings, Laughlin gears up. “Every morning I work out first thing. I heard an octogenarian say one time: ‘I leave my shoes by the bed; then my feet just need to hit the floor.’ I try to live by that philosophy,” he says. 

That natural drive in fitness matches his drive as a lawyer. “I’m a fortunate guy and my problems are first-world ones,” he says. “If all I have to do is roll out of bed with my achy joints, I can get that done.” 

Craving Challenge: Because he initially felt inept at running, Laughlin told himself he needed to tackle it, to overcome the seemingly insurmountable challenge. 

Rather than joining his brother (who also competes in races) or a training team, Jason prefers to run solo “because my inner drive comes out. I can burn energy and do it under my own terms. I don’t have to explain anything, which is a nice break from my workday,” he says.

“I’m an endorphin junkie, too, so after a while, I realized exercise was as addictive as a drug. I need it every day to be able to function, almost.”

3 years: How much longer the average runner lives, compared with a non-runner.

A WILL TO SUCCEED Antoinette Stevens, 26

Trading Twirls for the Treadmill: Stevens has been a lifelong dancer, most recently as a member of the Barnstormers Dance Team. “I’ve tried other activities, such as tennis in high school, martial arts and a little gymnastics after moving to Des Moines,” she says. “I’ve also done small-group physical training at the gym at Principal [where I work] for about two years. But dance has been a mainstay in my life.” 

Around the time she “retired” from dance, Stevens started dating Eric Cheatham. “He’s the runner in our relationship, and I hoped that one day I could get fast enough to run with him. It’s a way for us to bond,” she says.

Going it Alone (and in a Pack): In March 2018, Stevens started running consistently with a Fleet Feet running group (see “Gear Up,” page 125). At first, she had trouble running solo. “I would get tired quickly or give up and start walking,” she says. “Now, I can run alone without stopping and
I learned to control my pace so that I don’t tire myself out.” 

Stevens says the hardest part about running is getting up to go do it, whether in a crew or individually. “I prefer to run in a group because having people around helps me to moderate my pace, but if I don’t have anyone, I like to run while listening to podcasts,” she says. “People tend to speak at a fairly steady pace so I can run to their voice.”

Inner Strength: On her solo runs, Stevens discovered that tough love is a top motivator. Before she started running consistently, the first time she ran three miles was on a treadmill; she willed herself through it by saying, “You’re not weak!” 

“I still push myself in similar ways—unless I feel real pain. Then I stop because I don’t want to hurt myself—but now I also tell myself to finish the race and not to give up,” she says. “The goal of all of my runs is to finish and finish knowing I gave it my all. If ‘my all’ is limping across the finish line of a 5K because I completed a tough training run the day before, so be it.” 

Stevens wrapped up her last running season with a five-mile event, so her 2019 goal is to work up to a 10K (6.2 miles). “Running is my opportunity to clear my mind,” she says. “I feel better after a run, and surprisingly, I have more energy to get things accomplished throughout the day.”

5 minutes: The minimum daily running time required to increase your life span.

NEVER TOO LATE Theresa Lewis, 62

Running Start: Lewis always has enjoyed spending time outside and has stayed active walking her dogs and sweating with a trainer. About five years ago, she picked up speed when a
friend guilted her into signing up for her first 5K. 

“I was never a runner. Ever,” she says. “At first, my goal was ‘Can I run to the next light pole?’ I was so unprepared for that first race. It was pretty miserable, but I finished with a mix of jogging and walking. The three years following, I completed about five 5Ks—all were pretty difficult jog/walks.”

Support Team: Then Lewis and her husband, Doug, tried a session with a Fleet Feet running group (see “Gear Up,” page 125). “That really spurred me on. Fleet Feet has different levels of running groups, each filled with folks at the same level, plus coaches and mentors who provide training, pacing and step-up strategies that aren’t too painful,” she says. The group hosts three sessions a year—spring, summer and fall—each lasting 10 weeks and culminating with a race.

The Lewises have participated for two years. “The last two sessions, it’s been pretty surreal, but I’ve been a running mentor to others,” Lewis says. “I’ll never be the kind of runner who will complete 10 marathons, but I’ve picked up speed. I’m stronger. I’m healthier. And I no longer have to talk myself into running just to the next light pole.” Today she can make it through an entire 5K at a running pace.

Brain Benefits: To date, Lewis has finished about a dozen 5Ks. She has gained more than strength, speed and endurance, she says: “When I push myself, it’s an emotional process. At times, I want to give up. I want to sit down and cry. But when I stick with it, it’s easier to push through the tough parts of a race—or in any area of life. I reflect on others who can’t run. I accept what my body can handle
and feel very grateful that I am able to run at all.”

1 hour: Minimum time spent running each week that can help protect against depression.

Gear Up


Get fitted for your get-fit plan at these local specialty shops:

Fleet Feet: Every third Thursday of the month, this East Village shop welcomes a shoe manufacturer to host a demo run so runners can test out new products before buying. Fleet Feet also offers a range of training groups and a 100 percent guarantee on all purchases—no receipt required. (521 E. Locust St.; fleetfeetdesmoines.com)

Fitness Sports: Find your new shoes among the store’s 125 options, then join the Fitness Sports/Capital Striders training group to test it all out. (8810 Swanson Road, Clive; fitnesssports.com)

Heartland Soles: Before you buy, ask for a complimentary video “gait analysis.” An associate will examine it to help you select the just-right sneakers, socks and insoles, if necessary. (5525 Merle Hay Road, Johnston; heartlandsoles.com)

Things Are About To Get Hairy

Bored by solo sidewalk running? Join the Des Moines Hash House Harriers Meetup group. Currently more than 300 members strong, the group gathers to “hash” together, which is a competition-free combo of trail running/walking, compass-less orienteering, beer drinking and “getting lost” along a three- to five-mile course. A “hare” peppers the trail with clues while the pack tries to track them down by spotting the flour, chalk or paper marks. Learn more: meetup.com/DesMoinesH3.

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