Melissa Krager wasn’t a runner in 2011 when she accepted her sister-in-law’s invitation to run a 5k race. When she crossed the finish line, she realized she wasn’t done. Her running journey had just begun.
“I’d never run before and went into that 5k thinking if she could do it, I could do it, why not give it a try,” said Melissa Krager, office coordinator in the Emily Cooper Welty Expressive Therapy Center at Akron Children’s. “I ran the race with my friend and after the race, we both thought, ‘wow that was kind of fun’ and decided to keep running together.”
Melissa and her friend, Patti Sandlin, a revenue supervisor in professional coding at Akron Children’s, teamed up for runs after work along the Ohio Erie Canal a couple days a week and long runs on the weekend. The pair decided to take their running to the next level and committed to running their first half marathon in September 2012. It was the Akron Marathon’s 10th anniversary race.
“It was amazing – the energy on the streets, the fireworks, the blimp even flew by … my friend and I thought it was all for us – for finishing,” laughed Melissa. “We, of course, knew much of it was for their anniversary celebration, but that energy really stuck with us. We loved it, and we’ve run the Akron Marathon in some capacity every year since.”
Carving out time to train hasn’t always been easy, but the busy mom of 2 has found a way to make it work.
“I have a great support system. My husband and kids are very encouraging and help me find ways to make sure I have time to get my runs in,” said Melissa. “I don’t like to run alone so I have a wonderful group of friends who support me by running with me regularly. We motivate each other and have fun doing it.”
For Melissa, part of that fun is finding new trails that lead to familiar destinations in her own backyard.
“I had no idea how many paths crossed, looped or hooked back up to trails I’d been running for years until my friends and I decided to go off our typical path,” said Melissa. “Now I have maps of Cuyahoga Valley National Parks, the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath and other local trails from races I’ve done that we reference before we go out. We try to pick different places to go each week …We’ve seen a lot of the local trails, but we know there’s more to see.”
Although Melissa isn’t much of a talker during her runs, she treasures the quiet camaraderie of the sport and the friendships she forges while training or running in a race.
“One of my most favorite races was the one that I came in dead last,” said Melissa. “As I was getting ready to round the corner to finish a 5k, I was drawn to this other runner who was struggling to get up a hill. I backtracked to meet up with her and asked if I could run with her. We bonded in that moment and for the rest of the race …there was a whole crowd cheering for her as we crossed the finish together. It was the best I ever felt as a runner.”
Giving back – in any capacity – is something Melissa enjoys about the running community.
“I’ve always been a runner at a race, but last year I was the vice treasurer for the Employee Foundation Council and the course marshal for the Kids are #1 Run,” said Melissa. “It was great to see how a race comes together from the other side – the planning and placement of things – and, because I work here, I knew first-hand how the money we raised in entry fees would help our patients. There’s a whole system to arranging a race that I now have a better appreciation for.”
With hundreds of miles logged, and the running shoes to prove it, Melissa says running is a journey that makes her a better version of herself in the process.
“For a long time I had self doubt, ‘Am I good enough? Am I fast enough? Can I even run?’ but as I kept running it helped me realize the importance of self-care and believing in myself,” said Melissa. “I know it doesn’t matter how far or fast I go or how fancy my running clothes are while I’m doing it. I run because it’s allowed me to go to different places, meet new people and have a great time in the process.”
Trail running is one of the new places Melissa has come to enjoy this year, but it won’t keep her from hitting the pavement to run a half marathon at one of her favorite places, the FirstEnergy Akron Marathon, Half Marathon and Team Relay.
“I love to run new paths and try new races,” said Melissa. “I’ve found that no matter where the run takes me, when I get back to my car I always feel like I’ve accomplished something.”
For Melissa, running is a journey and getting to her destination – whether a finish line or a local trail – is just part of the fun of being a runner.
Interested in running, volunteering or cheering on the participants in the 2019 Akron Children’s Hospital Akron Marathon Race Series? Visit akronmarathon.org.