For the love of running

The Dalles Middle School teacher and elite marathoner Amanda Phillips is pictured, center, at the top of the podium at the Hilo Marathon awards.

For the love of running

The Dalles Middle School teacher and elite marathoner Amanda Phillips, right, is pictured with her running friend Jill Pettibone at the 2018 Oregon state club championships. Phillips took first place at the event.

Amanda Phillips’ favorite days are when she puts in six miles of running in the morning and then another 15 after she finishes teaching girls’ PE at The Dalles Middle School.

“You get such a great feeling of accomplishment,” she said of those 21-mile days.

An elite marathoner who was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame at her alma mater, Lewis and Clark College, Phillips has her eyes set on a certain race a year from now.

It’s in Atlanta, and it’s the Olympic trials. “I’m not at top-three status so I will not be making the Olympics, but the Olympic trials is still a pretty cool accomplishment,” she said. 

She also qualified for the trials in 2016, but couldn’t afford to go. “I’m a teacher,” she said with her ready laugh, “with massive amounts of student loan debt.” 

But since then, her times qualified her for elite status for various races, which not only covers the cost of travel, accommodations and race entry fees, but also gives runners a starting position at the front of the field.

She began teaching girls’ PE at the middle school last fall. She and partner Josh Chandler, a planner for the City of The Dalles, moved to the Gorge from Medford. She’s previously taught language arts and social studies.

Phillips began her own running career as a middle schooler, in sixth grade. A growth spurt her sophomore year finally helped improve her times.

She doesn’t think she understood her potential until her junior year at college, where she did the 1,500 and 5,000 meters in track and the 6,000 meters in cross country.

“I was always one of those lazy athletes that things just came easily to, but didn’t realize that easy meant I could probably be pretty good if I actually tried,” she said with a laugh.

In fact, she was so frustrated with injuries and her low race finishes her sophomore year of college that she quit at the end of the year. An insightful summer followed, however, and it changed everything.

She had a summer job at the base of Mt. Hood as a campground host in the Olallie Wilderness, and did a lot of running in the mountains alone. It was there that she made a realization: “I never really found I loved running intrinsically until I quit and started running just for myself and not for a team or coach,” she said.

“After that summer, I realized how much I love and need running. It defines me. That’s who I am: I’m a runner.”

She re-joined the team her junior year, and took first place in her first race. She ended up going to the national championships that year and by her senior year was her team’s top runner.

At the end of her collegiate career, she was named an All-American for running and ended up receiving her school’s Female Athlete of the Year Award with the top finish ever of a cross-country athlete at the national championships.

While she needed time to find her own love of running, she’s always loved the team aspect of sport. Her teammates have been her social circle and her best friends.

“However, even if I no longer found friendship in running, I would choose to continue because it’s something that stabilizes me and helps me to think and create. Running helps me stay mentally stable and emotionally and physically healthy. You know, if I ever have a conflict in my life, the best thing for me to do is to go on a run.”

Though she’s an elite marathoner, she’s actually faced many health issues throughout her life, “and I think running is one of the things that has helped me get through those health problems. I feel like I’m just one of those people that, even as a baby, I was colicky; I was sick all the time. I have so many allergies; have stomach problems; have skin problems; have hormone problems; you know, everything. But at least my heart is healthy, at least my muscles are healthy. So it’s really helped me learn to know my body and help me manage discomfort.”

She believes there’s a correlation between pain tolerance and elite sports. “I can push myself beyond what I think a lot of people probably could. Pushing myself through running helped me grow an internal drive to overcome many different types of things, including hardships in my life that I didn’t see coming, like grief and loss. Without the ability to run through these things, I am not sure who I would be.”

As with anything, there are many theories on how to train for a marathon. Phillips likes the high-mile approach. The marathon is “its own beast,” she said. “It is an interesting experience that your body is just not meant to go through.”

In her first two marathons her body rebelled. She “hit the wall”, as they say, at the 21-mile mark of her first 26.2-mile race. “I literally thought I was going to die. It was terrible.” At that point she started crying, vomiting, and hyperventilating, then walked most of the rest of the way.

Even so, she ran a respectable 2:52. Her second marathon, however, was eight minutes faster at a 2:44, though her body still rebelled, this time around mile 18.

In her last marathon, the California International Marathon in Sacramento, run last December, she ran a 2:39.50, placing her 33rd out of 3,638 women and 29th among the 73 elite women runners. This time she didn’t hit the wall.

In marathon training, the body is purposely held in a constant state of slight depletion and tiredness. Even iron levels are depleted. “Your goal is to teach your legs to run depleted. And to run fast depleted,” she said.

“The two-week taper before a race, when the training is significantly scaled back, runners actually feel sluggish and uncomfortable as their legs and body rebuild everything that’s been torn down for five months,” she said. “And then, two days before the race, iron levels are back up, the body is moving oxygen to the muscles at a higher rate, and your body is like, ‘Okay, we are all fixed.’”

“It’s really fascinating,” she said. “Understanding it better really helped my training because I needed to understand what happens to your body. Once I figured that out, I learned how to train my body to not ‘hit the wall’.”

The long miles suit her. “The reason why I got into marathoning is because I like the miles, I love to go out on a 24-mile run. Speed is the thing that I need to work on, whereas I could just go out there and run all day, happily.”

She’s trying to impart the experience and the will to be healthy to her students, though it’s a tough sell. “The girls hate it because I make them run outside twice a week, but there’s a lot of reasons for that. You need the sunlight, you need to get the feeling of exploration and freedom. Running outside is important.”

“Running is the cheapest and easiest way to stay healthy,” she said. “If they don’t learn to be active young then it will be very, very difficult to have that drive when they get older.”

Though born in Ashland, Phillips’ middle school years were spent in the tiny town of Myrtle Point, where she felt that community support and a sport-driven school system helped create a competitive and healthy mindset early. She recalled that the stadiums and bleachers were full at every high school basketball or football game.

By her high school years, however, she was back in Medford, where she played basketball in addition to her running. “I was shocked at how few people showed up to the games. I was like, ‘Why is this not the center of everyone’s world here?’”

Phillips chose teaching—a career path she picked in fourth grade—because she wanted to do good for society.

“I want to help my community be healthy, happy, and to come together in celebration of those things. When considering my path, I thought, where exactly is the best place to do that? I’m happy that I stuck with teaching.

“It has turned out to be a pretty noble place to attempt to make the world a better place.”

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