Running Ambassador: Chris Stuchko

  • October 13, 2017

I am a 35-year-old father to three wonderful children – Cole (9), Grace (7), Joy (4). I am a husband to a wonderful wife, Jen, for 10 years, nearly 11 at the start of the 2018 race.

I am teacher at Emmaus High School. I have been in a classroom for 13 years helping students who have challenges, obstacles, and hardships overcome and grow to become productive members of the community.

I am an avid listener of podcasts and user of social media. Whether listening to stories about reaching goals, finding mastery, running your best race, or learning about the newest trends in the world, I am always attempting to better myself and become a more well-rounded person.

But the one thing that brings all of those different aspects of my life together is this – I am a runner. 2017 marks my 10th year of running races. I have gone short (5k) and long (4 finished marathons) and lots of distances in between. I am a seven time finisher of the St. Luke’s Half Marathon (one of them was when it was still called the Lehigh Valley Half Marathon), with the last time coming in 2015. Whether it is a solo run from my house in Alburtis, Pa., a run with friends through the Lehigh Parkway, or even a *sigh* run on the treadmill, I look forward to every run as a chance to get out, challenge myself, and push my physical limits.

I am ready to come back and conquer the first longer race I competed in. Over my seven times running the race, my time has dropped over 15 minutes and I am looking to take it even lower in 2018. I am looking forward to starting at Allen High School (the spot of my first full-time teaching job), weaving through the streets of Allentown, going through the Parkway and back to Cedar Beach Park for the final push. I can’t wait to hear the drummers at the base of the hill before entering J. Birney Crum Stadium to make the final lap home. I want to share my story and hopefully inspire others to do their best and face the challenge of the St. Luke’s Half Marathon.

Q&A with Chris

How long have you been running? I have been running since 2007. I played team sports growing up and used running to get in shape for those events, but never liked it or focused on it exclusively.  I can’t really remember the trigger event that made me want to run or do races, but I think I was just looking for a healthy outlet to try and get more fit.

Best part of running: The best part of running is getting up in the morning before most people are awake and feeling like you are one of the only people out and about. It is really neat when on the same run you can see the nighttime stars in a clear sky and then watch the sunrise and start a new day. Running also gives me structure and provides goals to continuously strive to reach.

Do you remember your first race? My first race was the Rothman 8K in Philadelphia in 2007. It was the shortest race held during the Philadelphia Marathon weekend. I wanted to run that particular race because I am originally from Philadelphia and I thought it would be a fun race to try. When I signed up, I wasn’t sure how long an 8K was but I knew it was longer than 5K so I thought it would worth the challenge. A few days after the race, a certificate was emailed to me. I still have it in a frame in my basement right next to the treadmill.

What do you love most about the half marathon distance? The half marathon distance is a great race because it is a combination of speed and endurance. The St. Luke’s Half Marathon is the only half marathon I have run so I love the variety in the course, from roads to the Lehigh Parkway, and then the final spin on the Allen track. You get the chance to warm up for a mile or two at the beginning and get your legs under yourself. In the middle of the race you can get into a good rhythm and then push with whatever is left for the final few miles to finish it out.

Hate? There is nothing I “hate” about the half marathon distance. I have been doing a lot of 10 mile runs in recent years (Broad Street Run, South Mountain 10 Miler) so to know that at mile 10 that there are 3.1 more miles to go is a little disheartening. The only other thing I would hate is if the weather gets too warm.

What keeps you coming back to run the St. Luke’s Half Marathon? This is my relocated “hometown” race. When I first ran the race in 2009, I was still working at Allen High School, so I thought it would be cool to start a race where I worked. I ran the race for seven consecutive years until 2015 and the goal of improvement kept me coming back. I ran a 2:01:38 in my first attempt, so I wanted to get under 2 hours, which happened the following year. I have gotten my time to under 1:45 and I am hoping to go lower this year. Also, the St. Luke’s Half Marathon feels like a big race, but with a personal touch. There are enough people so you don’t feel alone, but you can find people who are cheering you on. You know the local spots and the areas in the Parkway to avoid or speed up, so you get a home-course advantage. Also, the food after the race is awesome. The couscous salad alone is a reason to come back!

What does a typical training week look like for you? While building a base leading up to a race, I will run between 25-30 miles per week. Most of my runs are solo early morning. I will run with co-workers after school if our schedules match up. For the St. Luke’s Half Marathon, I have followed the training plan provided by Bart Yasso. I find that his plan is solid and incorporates different runs that can really get you ready for the different terrains of the race.

Pre-run breakfast? When I run in the morning, I usually do not eat any breakfast. I have to leave my house no later than 6:45 a.m. to get to work on time so when I am getting up during the week, I usually roll out of bed and get my running stuff on and get out as quick as possible. On the weekends when I will do my long runs, I may eat a banana and then think about the pancakes I will make for my family when I return home.

Treadmill or outside? There are only two times I will go on the treadmill: bad weather and speedwork. I will run in a light rain sometimes, but if it is pouring I can stay on my treadmill. I prefer to do speedwork on the treadmill because it allows me to push tempo and forces me to run at a consistent speed.

Morning or evening runs? Morning. When I get home from work, I am doing activities with my family, so that is my number one priority.

Hot or cold weather runner? I prefer cold, but no matter the weather, I will always run in shorts. I never feel comfortable in pants. I will wear tall compression socks or other knee-high socks. I convince myself that the only part of my body that is cold are my kneecaps, so it truly is mind over matter.

Your worst running injury was… plantar fasciitis. It caused me to change my running shoes through the help of the team at the Emmaus Run Inn. They were knowledgeable about the type of shoe I needed and helped me to get a more minimal shoe.

What are the three things you do to prevent injury? I wish I could say I had a great strategy, but I really don’t. I am not a stretcher. I do not do much, if any, core work (I know I need to do more!). I do not foam roll or get massages. I try to buy high-quality shoes because I believe that shoes are one of the only clothing items to really spend a lot of money on. I try to stay consistent with my routines. Also, if I feel sick or run down, I will take a few days off to allow myself to heal so I can run at full force.

How do you stay motivated when you don’t want to run? I have a streak of running at least 100 miles per month since October 2015 (24 straight months) that I feel great pride in maintaining. The only time I don’t want to run is when I have to do it very early in the morning several days in a row, so I try to make sure I can try and get an after-school run at least one time per week so I don’t have to wake up so early every day. I also run to maintain my health. When I don’t run for a few days (and combine that with poor eating) I just don’t feel right, like something is missing. As a I am getting older (oh no!) I know it is important to maintain that level of health and I really value the opportunity I have to get out there and run.

When is your next race? I have a race in mind in December called the Rocky 50K. It was developed by a high school classmate who wondered the distance that Rocky would run through his movies if they really charted the routes he took. He figured out that it would be a 50K distance that of course ends at the famous Art Museum steps. Locally, the next race I will do is the Superbowl 10K, hosted by the Lehigh Valley Road Runners. This is a great winter race with a challenging course. This a race I have done 3 times previously and I am looking to it again as a tune-up to get ready for St. Luke’s training!

I can’t run without… something playing in my ears and my Garmin watch. Over the past few years I have switched over to podcasts while running. Longer podcasts like the Bill Simmons Podcast, the Rich Roll Podcast, the Tim Ferriss Show, and Marathon Training Academy are some of the ones I listen to help the time on the roads pass by. During races I will switch to music to get a little extra boost of energy. My Garmin watch has been a game-changer for me so I don’t have to measure out routes in my car anymore! Plus, I really like having the data and being able to reflect on different runs and focus on ways I can improve my overall performance.