Capt. Ryan Sommer of the Poulsbo Fire Department and his wife Melissa have been running long distances for years but the couple knew once they turned 40 they wanted to kick it up a notch and run a marathon.
So a few years ago, Ryan ran the Seattle Marathon, and Melissa ran the New York City Marathon.
“That was kind of our commitment to each other,” Ryan said. “It was really kind of an emotional experience reaching that goal. We’ve always been active and ran together, and I decided I was going to do a couple more.”
Ryan finished with a time of 3 hours, 43 minutes during his first marathon in Seattle, which he noted is full of hills. But as a competitor, he knew he could do better and wanted another chance.
Although Ryan works in Poulsbo, he lives in North Bend, where The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Marathon occurs every summer. The event is a qualifier for the historic Boston Marathon.
Ryan has run that marathon in North Bend the last two times, and ended up qualifying for the Boston Marathon last summer. He finished in fourth place in his division with a time of 3 hours, 19 minutes, noting that much of the terrain is downhill. “I thought I could do a little bit better than last time,” he said. “I decided to put a little bit more work into it. Having access to the trail and course itself, I spent a lot of time running the course.”
Before the Boston Marathon April 17, Ryan took Melissa and his two children on an East Coast trip — which included a stop at Fenway Park for a Red Sox game — so they could support him during his run. “They helped motivate me,” he said. “My kids made signs. They were troopers, they waited for [over 3 hours] in the rain.”
Ryan ended up finishing the marathon with a time of 3 hours, 21 minutes. He noted that for the first nine miles, everyone was sort of running in a pack, but things started to spread out after that. “I felt as exhausted as I have been after any race,” he said, adding he was hoping for a time of around 3:15. “The course is really difficult. Looking back at all these events, I think I can always do better.”
In hindsight, Ryan said he wish he would have trained a little harder and longer but the winter weather made it tough.
“Mentally, it’s easy to train from April to July, doing the summer runs,” he said. “I think what was difficult for this one was I started training in January and our winter was brutal. My wife really gets after it and helps motivate me. I would wake up before work at like 4 in the morning, and I would run for an hour or hour and a half just to get those 16-, 18-, 20-mile runs in. It was cold. It was easy to tell yourself, ‘I’m not doing it today.’”
While running a marathon, Ryan said there are many times when you have to push your limits and the mental component plays a big role in that. He said he cramped during his first marathon in Seattle around mile 19 but hasn’t cramped up since, due in large part to drinking pickle juice days before a marathon.
“I think what a lot of people don’t realize who haven’t run a full marathon is that it’s supposed to hurt. It’s meant to hurt,” he said. “I think the people that don’t run the higher miles in the training leading up to the marathon … that’s why people quit or walk because they think there’s something wrong. In essence, most people aren’t injured, it’s just really painful.”
Even though Ryan would have liked to finish a little better, he realizes that simply getting the chance to run in such a legendary sporting event is a blessing in itself.
“The experience was amazing,” he said. “26 miles of people lining the streets. It was really cool. A lot of lifelong, elite runners — this is like the culmination of all their work. I felt lucky to even run the race.”
Ryan’s next marathon will be in Chicago in October, and Melissa is going to join him there. “That one’s pretty flat so I think maybe I’ll be able to knock back that 3 hours, 15-minute goal,” he said with a laugh.
Regarding the Boston Marathon, Ryan said he would love the chance to run it again and improve on his time. “That’s just me being competitive with myself.”