A Runner’s Story

Laura Zelch

Gia Napoleon, Writer

The runner’s heart races faster than the speed of light as the official yells to step up to the start line. As the runner crouches into a starting position, the official raises his gun firing the shot that starts the race. The runner spring off of the start line as the other runners funnel down into the first lane pushing past each other. The runner breaks off from the pack – legs aching with pain, head pounding, oblivious to the screaming stands. Sprinting over the final meters of the race the runner crosses the finish line with a final push. With a triumphant smile the runner trots towards friends congratulating them for completing the race.

Laura Zelch felt the same victory when she won the 800-meter race and the 4×800-meter relay at the OHSAA State Championship for track and field at the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium during her senior year at Thomas Worthington High School in 1997 . With a time of two minutes 11 seconds and four milliseconds. Zelch won the 800-meter race and won the 4×800-meter relay with her team with the time of 9:09.21. Zelch was a varsity athlete in both soccer and track and field and set the school record in the 800 meter race in 1997. The record was not broken until 2014 when Ashley Forte beat it with a time of 2:09.55.

As a middle school student at Perry Middle School, which is now Phoenix Middle School, Zelch ran her first year of track and field. In an interview with Zelch she commented that she first experienced her love of running that year by having fun with her friends and satisfying her competitiveness by striving to beat her personal times. When she began high school at Thomas Worthington she was challenged by her coaches, Nancy Beattie and Gary Smith, to become a great runner. Every year Zelch qualified for the State Championship, but it wasn’t until her junior year she made the podium. During her junior year Zelch qualified for states as an individual running the 800-meter race. Zelch placed third in the race.

Zelch says that looking back on her career as a high school athlete she grew up in a way where she respected adults much more than before. “Sprint Coach Beatty and Distance Coach Gary Smith would talk to us about what it means to be a powerful young women not just running techniques and race statistics. I learned so much more about myself and how to hopefully grow into a role model for younger runners.”

“Running has had an extremely mediating effect on my life.” Zelch says that she can open up her mind and not worry about anything other than the run ahead of her, this lets Zelch step back and enjoy life. She believes running has enhanced her physical, mental and spiritual health.

Not only is running great for physical fitness but studies show that it also benefits the physical and mental health of runners of any level. Running can cause things such as weight loss, postponed aging, strengthened immune system, and improved stress and mood. The American Institute for Cancer Research has also proved that running can provide an effective way of treating breast cancer. According to the American Psychological Associationusually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.”

Zelch was encouraged to run the 800-meter race by her coaches because of her fast paced endurance. The 800-meter race is two laps long on a standard 400-meter track and equals half a mile. The race is ran as a controlled sprint. According to Mike Crystal, USA track and field certified coach, runners do not reach a full sprint in the 800-meter race, but the runners never truly relax into a pace. The 800-meter race  is the shortest outdoor event where each athlete runs entirely in their own separate lane. This requires runners to be aware of being pinned to the inside of the first lane preventing the ability to pass anyone. By having a fast start and establishing a position at the front of the race, runners can avoid being “boxed in”. Crystal says “the first lap in a well-executed race is likely to be slightly faster than the second, as the goal of the last 200 meters is usually not so much to “kick” and increase the pace as to maintain and not tie up in a flood of lactic acid.”

After winning two races at the state championship and winning the All-American Award her senior year, Zelch went on to become a collegiate runner. Her dream was to run for the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and when she signed to the University of Georgia that dream became a reality. She said running in college was a “humbling experience”. Zelch commented that in college most runners run one race farther in distance above what they ran in high school. Zelch, an 800-meter specialist in high school, was racing against extremely fast sprinters who ran the 400-meter dash in high school. Zelch was then bumped up to run the mile race, and quickly fell in love with it. She then was “lured” into running cross country and fell in love with that sport.

Now a happily married mother of three sons, Zelch lives in Worthington and loves to stay updated on the running program’s success at Thomas Worthington. Zelch says that she enjoys the diversity of different sports and does lots of different types of physical activity. Recently yoga has been her favorite. But she says her love for running will never cease and that she always goes back to running.