Mac Engel

How a Fort Worth mom joined the Guinness World Records; eyes U.S. Olympic trials

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A career that was quite accidental now is in the Guinness World Records.

Elizabeth Northern said she never ran in high school at Nolan Catholic, and only joined her college team at Trinity University because they happened to be training one morning she went for a jog.

“I ran cross country in high school but I don’t count that,” she said. “I really wasn’t very good at it, and I only did it for fun.”

If you loathe genuine humility in the face of enviable achievement, please continue.

Today, Northern has qualified to run at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials for a second time with the chance to compete in the Summer Olympics.

On September 1, she will join Team USA in the International Association of Ultrarunners World Championships in the 50K competition in Brasov, Romania. She will be one of 75 women from 26 countries in the 50K race.

50K as in 31 miles. Because 26.2 miles is simply not enough.

If all of this doesn’t make you feel bad enough about yourself, Northern has also joined the Guinness World Records.

On June 1, Northern ran the 10K in the Joe’s Run in Fort Worth in 41 minutes, 22.86 seconds.

The catch? She did it pushing a BOB stroller, with her two small children devouring snacks as opposed to fighting while their mom ran the streets of Fort Worth.

After some back and forth, her achievement was officially recognized by the Guinness World Records this summer.

Northern is proof that sometimes a master plan doesn’t need an actual architect, and that kids don’t have to slow you down. In her case, she sped up.

THE ACCIDENTAL MARATHONER

Sitting in her pre-Depression era home in Fort Worth near the Trinity River, Northern’s two kids bounce around, oblivious to what exactly mom does.

To Penny (2 1/2) and Davis (1 1/2), the many race medals that mom has accrued over the years, which hang in a cluttered mass on her wall, are decor.

One day, they will marvel how she won them.

She was a student at Trinity in San Antonio when the cross country team was practicing. She was asked to walk on. As a Division III school, she figured, why not?

“I was dead last,” she said. “But I have always had good endurance, and I have always been stubborn.”

By the time she was a senior, she was the fastest member on the team.

By the time she enrolled at Penn State to earn her Master’s degree in Education, she figured her competitive career was over.

For fun, she signed up for a half marathon near State College, Penn. In the race, she happened to recognize three other women whom she had competed against in college.

They ran together, pushed each other, and Northern decided she was ready for her first marathon.

She ran it in 2010, at the age of 22.

“I was so dumb; I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “I did no training.”

And she ran her first marathon with no training in 2 hours and 56 minutes. For anyone masochistic enough to run a marathon (guilty as charged) these are the people you despise.

“I hated it. It took my two years until I ran my next marathon,” Northern said. “I thought, ‘I am never doing this again.’”

AN OLYMPIC HOPEFUL

Some people are adept at certain activities, and, for Northern, she can run the way a bird can fly, a dog can bark, and a Trump can tweet.

By 2015, she was well into marathons and winning them.

She won the 2015 Cowtown Marathon in a record time, and was close enough to think she could qualify for the USA Olympic trials.

The girl who began running with no clear destination found herself in the early spring of 2016, running the streets of Los Angeles in terrible heat, trying to make the U.S. Olympic team.

While Northern finished the race in 2 hours, 49 minutes and 57 seconds, she was about 20 minutes off the top three finishers, who make the Olympic team. The accomplishment was that she had made the Olympic trials, and finished the race in 84-degree heat, while nearly one-third of the field dropped out.

Then she had kids, with the C-section scar to prove it. Again, she figured her running career was over.

She has a professional career, and she and her husband, Will, are dedicated parents to little kids. Not everything can always fit.

She couldn’t give it up, and then decided to run beyond 26.2 miles. To distance runners, Northern wanted the Ultramarathon.

“I can’t really say the Olympics are a goal; for those people, running is their career,” she said. “I think my best shot at a Team USA event is the 50K. It’s a distance that is not as popular.”

For perfectly good reason.

Maybe she will win the Ultra in Romania. She has won all five races at the Cowtown in her career: 5K, 10K, half marathon, full marathon, ultra marathon.

She has qualified to run in the 2020 U.S. Olympic marathon trial in February in Atlanta.

Again, she does not expect to actually make the U.S. Olympic team but ... she never meant, planned or designed to do any of this.

Oh, yes, and Elizabeth Northern is a Guinness World Record holder.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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