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The one thing that Sarah Dills hated as a soccer player is the one thing that she’s fallen head over heels for.
Despite the aching muscles, painful blisters and frigid ice baths that she’s endured the past four months since she began training to run the 15th Annual Flying Pig Marathon on May 5 in Cincinnati, Dills knows the thrill of finishing the 26.2 mile marathon will be worth it.
“When I played soccer in high school and had to go out for conditioning and run a mile, it was brutal,” she said, with a smile.
Dills moved to Grant County in 2003 after graduating from the University of Kentucky and for the first time she joined a gym.
But it wasn’t until 2007 after she married Grant County Sheriff Chuck Dills and became a step-mother to his two sons that she took up running.
“When Brennan joined cross country it was something that he and I could do together and I really liked that. We’d go out and run maybe three miles,” she said.
In 2008, Dills gave birth to a daughter and said she had trouble losing her baby weight.
“I just wasn’t healthy, so on New Year’s Day 2010, I decided I’d get into shape,” she said.
Dills was working for Home Trends Magazine at the time and one of the team building exercises she participated in for staff was to set three personal goals for the coming year with the three steps to make it happen.
“I wrote down that I wanted to run a marathon,” she said. “A few years later I found that list and decided that even though I didn’t do it when I set out to, I could still do it,” she said.
In June 2010, she began training in earnest and ran 13.1 miles in the
Sun Burst Half Marathon at Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind.
She wanted to keep running but became pregnant with twins.
Following their birth in 2011, she decided to begin training again.
In Jan. 2012, she suffered a sports hernia in her groin, which stopped her from running for two months. She began training again in August and rain in the Disney World Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Florida.
The race course was spread throughout the theme park and Disney characters cheered on participants.
She and her daughter, Bianca, entered the Kids Fun Run, a 200-yard dash.
“We’d gone not far when she looks up at me and said, ‘mommy I’m tired.’ I said look Bianca there’s Mickey at the finish line and it was like a burst of adrenaline because she took off and ran to him,” Dills said.
When Dills crossed the finish line that day, she said she wanted to fall over.
“I even said I didn’t know how people ran a full marathon,” she said.
A few months later she had what she calls a “now or never” moment when she decided that she’d start training to run a full marathon.
“I just got it into my head that I could do this,” she said. “I kept thinking I’m not getting any younger so I better do it.”
She first contacted a group of local runners about how to begin preparing for the grueling event.
“They were so helpful and so supportive, but they’re fast and I’m not,” she said candidly.
She opted to join a group out of Newport that meets on Tuesday night and Saturday mornings, which offer coaches for runners of various paces.
“I was nervous that first day because it was kind of like the first day of school,” she said. “You don’t know anyone and will they like me is on your mind.”
What Dills found were people willing to partner with her to keep her focused so that she would crawl out of warm bed on a freezing cold Saturday in January and run for five miles.
She said the longer she ran, the more she got to know her running partners and learned that they were there for each other.
“One Saturday in February they were forecasting a blizzard and telling people to stay home, but I knew my group would be counting on me to be there,” she said. “When I got out of bed, Chuck looked and me and said that I had lost my mind.”
Dills said she drove up Interstate-75, which was covered in snow and ice. Her car slid a few times, but she kept going.
“As I was driving I decided that I was crazy,” she said.
But when she got to the meeting spot, there was the group, all of them, ready to run 10 miles.
“So we ran through Ft. Thomas in a foot of snow, which is one of the craziest things I’ve ever done,” she said.
She’s had her struggles with her decision to train for her first marathon. There’s leaving her family behind on weekends, working her photography business around the training and family and then the sore feet, blisters, cramps and body aches. After she spends most of Saturday in training, she’ll sit for several hours in an ice bath to relieve the pain.
She’s learned to pack water, energy bars, salt tablets, pain reliever and even anti-diarrheal pills with her as she runs.
The running group also has a support system that sets up stations along the race route that offers water, sports drinks, cookies, music and encouragement.
“One guy has a table and puts a spread on of orange slices, chocolate chip cookies and stuff. It’s like a buffet,” she said.
So far, she’s run 22 miles, the most she’ll run before the actual race.
“When I finished that last mile, I felt great,” she said.
She expects to complete the Flying Pig in five hours, but that’s not what pushes her.
“I want to show my kids that anything is possible if you work for it,” she said. “I feel like this generation doesn’t have the work ethic, especially in an age of technology and instant gratification, so I want them to see that things aren’t handed to you, you have to work for the things you want.”
She plans to take some time off after the Flying Pig and possibly to train to run in the Walt Disney Marathon.
“But that will have to be a family decision because I now realize what a commitment this is,” she said.
There are several other runners from Grant County who will be participating in the Flying Pig, including Dills and two others that attend church at Williamstown United Methodist Church.
She may not win the Flying Pig, but she’s OK with that.
“My house might be a mess and my kids might be messy, but I’m happy,” she said. “And it doesn’t matter how long it takes me to cross that finish line, I’m going to finish and that’s what is important.”