“Nobody has time to do this. Everybody is busy, but time will never come to you. You have to take the time,” said Dr. Susan Thorson Barnett, explaining how she finds time to train for and run marathons, half-marathons and other distance runs with impressive frequency. On Nov. 11, Barnett completed the Tunnel Hill 50-mile Run in Vienna, Illinois, finishing in just over 14 hours.
Barnett has racks of race medals on display in her home and office but after the last race, she brought home a sizeable belt buckle for completing the race with her daughter, Tanja Barnett Fillippino, and a friend. The run takes place along the Tunnel Hill State Trail, a former railroad line that is now a scenic trail for bikers and pedestrians that winds through southern Illinois. About 700 runners participated with some running 50 miles and others running 100 miles. Barnett’s goal was to finish in 15 hours. Runners have 30 hours to finish the race.
“It was beautiful and cold and a there was a tunnel you had to run through,” she said. “When we started at 7 in the morning, it was 34 degrees; then later, we ran in light jackets and at night, we had to put on jackets and caps with nightlights because there is no light at all along the trail.”
Barnett, chair of the Department of Psychology at Northwestern State University, trained for 19 weeks to complete the run. She has been running for several years, but began as a complete novice.
“I saw an article about running a 15K and I thought, ‘Oh, that would be fun.’ I didn’t know how far 15K was. In three months, I went from running zero to running 9.3 miles,” she said. Later, colleagues from the Psychology Department and others began running together four to five miles a few times a week.
“Eventually, I ran a full marathon and have been running marathons 10 or 11 years. I do about two a year,” she said.
Barnett is petite, warm, energetic and modest about her accomplishments. She enjoys physical activity, has been lifting weights with a trainer and was doing Camp Gladiator, but realized she needed to drop Gladiator to train for the 50-mile run, which required running 50-60 miles per week.
“It was just one of those challenges and maybe in a couple of years, I will work up to the 100-mile but not in Illinois. It was cold,” she said.
Another rewarding aspect of the experience was running with her daughter Tanja.
“It was the fact that she wanted me to run with her. I said, ‘I am going to enjoy every single mile of this race. Do you realize how profound it is that we can and are able to do this?’ When you look back on your life, do you want to remember all the garbage or do you want to remember this? Near the end of the race, with about seven miles left, I said, ‘Every single mile is just wonderful.’”
The Tunnel Hill Run was well-organized with aid stations every five miles and three drop zones where prepacked clothes were dropped for the runners to change clothes as the day’s temperature changed. She was also moved that, on Veteran’s Day weekend, many of the race volunteers were veterans and their spouses.
“I was so profoundly thankful,” she said. “They served us a spaghetti dinner on Friday evening and when we were done they had homemade potato soup and chicken noodle soup. I was particularly moved.”
Up next, Barnett said she will probably run the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge in January and the Little Rock Marathon in March with her daughter. She and a few other running buddies regularly meet to run at 4:30 a.m.
“There is something powerful about working out, not just the endorphins, but you reach a point where you are just thinking and prioritizing. Movement is food for the soul,” she said. “You have to take the time with all the stress in the world. It’s a great stress release.”