Meet Rita Zona

Rita Zona fell in love with running and then fell in love with a runner. Her and her husband, Jeff, started in their youth and now share their passion for running with their children. Although Rita puts in the training for a marathon, her main goal is to stay in shape and still have time to create memories with her children as they grow.

1) What first inspired you to want to run a marathon? How capable did you feel you were of running a marathon?

My husband ran the Chicago Marathon in 2000. I was inspired by the crowd and the sense of accomplishment he felt when he finished. The next year I signed up to run Chicago and train with CARA. I felt like I was completely in over my head. Each night before the training, I had trouble falling asleep, wondering if I could actually finish the mileage the next day. But having the support of the people in my group kept me going. By marathon day, I was more confident but still anxious.

2) How did marathon training change your outlook on life?

Marathon training helped me gain patience with running long distances at a regular pace and building mileage towards a goal. Patience and working towards a goal translate well towards life skills. For me, marathon training and finishing a marathon gave me more confidence in being able to apply myself and accomplish whatever I set out to do.

3) Sometimes training through the summer is hard due to vacation(s). How did you keep up with your training? What would you tell a runner that is considering training but hasn’t because they know they will miss some of it?

I found that the most important runs were the long runs on the weekends. I feel it is important o fit these in if possible. Often times, when I found I was going to have a conflict on the weekend, I would talk with other runners in the group. We could arrange the long run on a different day of the week for any others with conflicts, maybe the Friday before. Other times, if I needed to do the long run on my own or on a trip, I plotted my course and signed my husband up to meet me along the way in his car with water or a sports drink. It took more planning but it was a fun adventure.

4) Why did you choose to participate in the program again and what are you most looking forward to?

I will run in the program again. Last year I didn’t run a marathon even though I did the training. I ran the 20-miler as my “marathon”. This is because my younger son now is an accomplished high school runner. He is a junior in high school now and usually has meets on Saturdays. So late in the marathon training season, I chose to watch him run each Saturday rather than continue my own training. I know that kids grow up quickly and eventually (hopefully) go to college (like my older son) so I chose to enjoy watching the cross country meets while he is still in high school. I participate in the program because I like being on a running schedule in the summer when there is so much going on and it is easier to talk myself out of a run if I am not on a schedule. I also like to be in good enough shape that I can keep up with my two active teenagers and husband when we take our summer vacations. Our vacations usually involve a lot of hiking and running and biking. Also, I really love the CARA running group. It is really energizing to interact with so many runners with such a passion for running.

5) What marathon are you running in the fall? What are your expectations for it, and how will training with CARA help you meet those expectations?

I may skip the marathon again this year to watch my high-schooler in his senior year. But I will train again for the reasons above and will likely run a half marathon instead.

6) What most surprised you during this marathon journey?

I’ve run 5 Chicago marathons in 2001, 2002, 2011, 2012, and 2014. Even though I have more confidence that I can achieve the mileage for training, I still get butterflies thinking about running 16 miles or 18 miles later in the training program. I’m surprised that I still get these butterflies. I would have thought that having done the training a few times already would help with anxiety about high-mileage runs but I also realize that sometimes things come up on long runs, stomach problems, aches and pains, etc. so no run is always a layup.

7) During the training process there comes a point where every runner hits a wall. How did you keep yourself going? What did you tell yourself?

Knowing that I can talk to my fellow runners in my training group is a big help when it feels like I can’t keep going. Everyone seems to hit a stalling point. The members of the CARA training group can relate and provide encouragement. Also, knowing that I have been able to get through the miles in the past helps me to keep going.

8) How did marathon training enhance the already amazing Chicago summer experience?

Running in Chicago in the summer is always amazing because of the weather, the running community, the lakefront and the abundance of race options. Having the marathon training group camaraderie only adds to the amazing experience.

9) What was the hardest thing for you to overcome during training or running the marathon? Time commitment? Doubt?

The time commitment is the hardest thing for me to overcome. I work full-time and have a family. I travel for work too. Traveling makes it even harder to put the time aside to train. But I take a longer view and know that by maintaining a healthy lifestyle through running and staying in shape, I am better able to tackle the challenges presented at work and home. Marathon training provides a nice structured way for me to train through the summer.

10) If there was someone sitting on the couch right now, thinking about doing what you did, what advice would you give them?

I would tell them that the marathon is an unbelievable experience. You can’t explain to someone the support of the crowds along the entire route and the feeling of doing something pretty monumental by finishing the marathon.

11) How has training and running a marathon changed your relationship with your kids? Do you do more sports related activities with them now?

In 2013 and 2014 when I was contemplating signing up for the Chicago marathon my kids were overwhelmingly supportive. They really encouraged me to do it. They came out to cheer me on at several points along the marathon route. It was cool to see that they were proud of me for training and running. They are now runners themselves. Running is part of our lifestyle. All of our vacations involve running or hiking or other activities. I hope they’ll be motivated to run a marathon at some point in their future too and pass on to their future families a love for running.


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