Emily Van Dyken returned from a trip to Hungary in need of some soul searching.
She did it through running.
A pianist from Washington who moved to the area to earn a master’s degree from TCU, returned from the former Soviet bloc unsure where her education would lead her.
“Some things [with music] didn’t work out, so I really felt pretty lost,” said Van Dyken, who settled in Fort Worth. “I didn’t know what to do. Running was something I loved. I started running six days a week just to see if I was any good at it and started getting faster.”
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Van Dyken was better than any runner in the field of female runners at the Cowtown Marathon 10K on Saturday, covering the 6.2 mile course in a personal-record time of 37 minutes, 50 seconds.
That was better than Fort Worth resident Kristin Garcia by about a minute and a half.
Before Van Dyken’s identity as a born-again Texan was revealed, the only recognizable face across the finish line was the mayor herself.
A self-described “plodder,” Betsy Price, a cyclist at heart, strode through the course in 1:28:37.
The fastest of the day was Antti-Pekka Niinisto, a native Findlander now of Maryland who blazed a course record in 31:16.
Brent Pouslen, a Canadian-turned Fort Worthian, was second at 33:21.
While the February morning chill nipped at all the feet of those who still run outside to get a newspaper, the runners praised both the weather and course, which started uphill but flattened as it progressed. More than 13,000 participated in the 5K and 10K races.
Dereje Hailegiorgis of Arlington and Austin Christian, one of a wagonful of Oklahomans who make the trip every year, were tops in the men’s 5K race, finishing in 15:00 and 15:51.
“I was with him the first mile, then he was gone,” said Christian, a runner at East Central University in Ada, Okla.
Jessica Smith, 35, of Trophy Club, topped female runners in the the 5K with a time of 18:21. Lauren Brandon, 27, of Fort Worth was next at 19:24.
Brandon is a professional triathlete. Smith, in her second appearance at the Cowtown, will be back today participating in the half-marathon.
“I’m really excited” about the personal record, said Van Dyken, who ran her first marathon in 2009 but became “serious” about running the next year.
“I think I went as hard as I could, but it didn’t feel that hard. I think I have a really good spring ahead of me.”
And a music career, too.
Van Dyken is refocused and ready to re-engage her first love as a professional pianist, employing the master’s diplomacy over those delicate steel wire strings.
The break she needed is over. This composer and improviser has set up some concerts in April.
She’s poised to make music every bit as beautiful as her stride was on Saturday.
“Coming from music I was very disciplined and goal oriented,” Van Dyken. “In running, I had something again that I could work for and that I loved and see myself get better at.
“So that was neat for me. The more I did it the more I got hooked on it.”