By Savanah Mandeville • Photos by Mandy Edmonson

Some people are born with natural athletic abilities.

Julie Reams, membership/special events director for the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, is not one of those people.

“I didn’t play sports in high school or anything. I did track for one day, and it was too hard,” she recalled with a laugh.

Despite this, 10 years ago, she stepped out of her comfort zone and signed up to train for a half-marathon.

“I was living in Andover, Kansas, at the time, and my neighbor, who was a runner, asked me to join her for this class to learn how to run a half-marathon. It weighed on me a little, and I thought: ‘I have small kids, I need to get healthy.’ The class started in June, and we met on Saturdays to train for the Prairie Fire Half Marathon in October. You could tell I was a fish out of water. Everyone else had run all these races and had all this stuff. I had never done anything. They had the right clothes and right shoes. It was awful.”

She wanted to quit, but the $75 financial commitment locked her in.

Little by little, she got better.

“I remember the first time I ran six miles — I couldn’t believe it. My body hurt. Things were moving that had never moved in my whole life. It was really hard,” she said. “But I did do the half marathon. My IT band was a mess. My foot hurt, my back hurt. Everything hurt. But I did it!”

That’s when many people would’ve stopped, but the accomplishment — tough as it was — inspired Julie to keep going. She kept training and signed up for 5k after 5k.

“I told myself: ‘If I work at this, I can get better. For the first two or three years, I was racing all the time. Sometimes I did two races in one day.”

She started placing for her age group, and the thrill of taking home medals and seeing her kids cheering at the finish line inspired her to push harder.

Today, Julie has run seven marathons, several triathlons and hundreds of 5k’s. Some of her fondest memories include Ragnar Relays, long distance relay races that average 200 miles.

“I’ve run on ultra-teams, or teams of six or 12 ladies, running 200 total miles with them. I’ve done seven or eight, all over the country from Florida to California,” she said. “The first one I did was in Arizona, and I was like, ‘Why do I put myself through this?’ But it was so much fun! You’re fatigued, but it’s really amazing. One of the best ones was an ultra race, there were only six of us, and you had to run from Miami, Florida, to Key West.”

After all this time and all those races, the half-marathon is still her favorite. That Prairie Fire Half Marathon that almost killed her 10 years ago? That’s her new comfort zone.

“I’ve run the Prairie Fire run in Wichita several times. Not that I haven’t enjoyed all of the races I’ve done, but when I think about my first half marathon, there was something special about it. To go back to run it, it’s just like home.”

Julie’s advice to new runners is to never give up.

“It’s going to be hard. It’s not easy or everybody would be doing it. I know so many people who do the ‘Couch to 5K,’ and I would say don’t stop there. Do another 5k. I think if you put your mind to it, you can do anything. Your mind is a powerful tool.”

She also wants new runners to know if she can do it, anyone can do it.

“If someone would’ve told me from that very first day, ‘You’re going to like running. You’re going to do it for you, not anyone else. You’re going to do it because you love it,’ I wouldn’t have believed them.”