RunWashington’s Fall Marathoners: Meet Amelia McKeithen

Amelia McKeithen (left) before the 2014 Rock 'n' Roll USA Half Marathon, for which she was the top fundraiser for Girls on the Run DC. Photo: MarathonFoto
Amelia McKeithen (left) before the 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon, for which she was the top fundraiser for Girls on the Run DC. Photo: MarathonFoto

In the months leading up to 2015’s Fall marathons, RunWashington will follow several local runners as they prepare for their races. We’ll chart their progress as they train their legs, lungs and minds for the challenges they’ll race on race day. Each week, we’ll catch up with our runners and see how they’re doing. Peer pressure and convinced Amelia McKeithen, of D.C.,  to sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon, but her fundraising goal will help her stick with her training.


Amelia McKeithen claims she lacks discipline.

It’s easy to believe at first.  Outgoing, and warmly self-effacing, she makes light of the accomplishments under her belt.  Things like biking across the country for charity and, at 30, landing exactly the kind of job she identified for herself in law school.  It’s possible that she holds herself to a higher standard of discipline.

If so, D.C. is certainly the right place for her – the fit, social, go-getter lived here briefly after college, and since moving back in 2013, finds even more about the city to love.

“It’s been great to see all the changes that have been made,” she said. “D.C. has really become a city you can root for.”

Compact but strong, McKeithen was actually introduced to running when she rowed in high school outside of Philly.  She always placed high in the run portion of team training, much better than she did on the erg.  She ran on her own while she was in college, enjoying the mental benefits as well as how it helped her keep in shape.

McKeithen moved to D.C. right after graduating from the University of Virginia and immediately started running with a Monday night Pacers fun run group as a “healthy, social outlet.” She found a place to connect with people that she enjoyed as a change from just going out (though there was plenty of going out afterwards, just getting a run in first!). She did the same when she moved to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt for law school.  Her first half marathon was a charity race that her boss heavily encouraged her into doing.  She sort of trained, and hoped to break two hours.  She actually ended up coming in somewhere in the 1:40’s.

“I don’t think of myself as a competitive person, but it seems every time I do a race I achieve more than I expect,” she said.  When she participated in Ragnar, she said, “I’ve never run with a watch, I don’t run many races,” so when asked to estimate how long her leg would take, she said “I overestimated by A LOT, the van wasn’t even there.”

One of the reasons she signed up to do the Marine Corps Marathon this year is that, having turned 30, she wants to prove she can do things she would otherwise say she couldn’t, like skiing, which she tried for the first time on her 30th birthday.  The marathon is something she feels capable of physically, the obstacle she anticipates is sticking to the preparation.

The other main motivator for her Marine Corps bid is the charity she’s representing and raising money for.  Amelia first heard about the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health through a friend who does fundraising, and she is drawn to their mission of providing support, resources, and a feeling of home for the families of children who are battling various childhood illnesses.  It’s a way, she said, to “take advantage of my health and well-being and raise funds for kids who have so many physical challenges.”

The Inn has been served over 12,000 families since opening in 1990, and provides an atmosphere for kids receiving treatment at NIH for life-threatening and other serious illnesses a place to spend time with their parents and siblings that has a sense of community and caring one couldn’t find in a hotel room.  The staff provides not only lodging but activities and field trips for the families to spend time together, giving them much needed reprieve from the hours in hospital rooms.

McKeithen isn’t an avid racer, and the main reason she’s apt to sign up for a race is for charity. “If I’m only accountable to myself it isn’t interesting or compelling,” she says with a shrug.  Her first experience with an audacious physical challenge was the bike ride across the United States, which was exactly a decade ago.  She rode with Bike and Build, which raises awareness and funds for affordable housing.

When asked what challenges she anticipates when it comes to training, Amelia offers that self-discipline is her main concern.  In the second and third half marathons she’s completed, she did a lot of cross-training, which helped her overall strength, but she’s mindful that “you can’t just fake a marathon” as she puts it.

“My whole problem with training is I really hate being told what to do — even by myself,” she said, going on to admit that she’s not likely to stick to a training plan – if she feels like running 7 miles, she’s going to, even if her plan says 3, and vice versa. The other worry she has is the heat, as she said, “I’m worried it’s going to be a record hot summer.  I’m a baby when it comes to running in the heat.  I think I hate the heat more than the treadmill.”

In her first half marathon, she found that her back was uncomfortably sore for awhile afterwards – and not the good, post-workout, sore.  So she used a lot of cross-training, including Pilates and an erg to keep herself in overall form.  She calls her cross-train heavy approach the “I can do what I want” training plan and is worried it might nor cut it for the full marathon.  “I just don’t want to break myself,” she says, of her marathon training.

McKeithen is excited about running the Marine Corps Marathon and experiencing another “quintessential DC race” after completing her first Cherry Blossom Ten Mile. She isn’t making any brash declarations of time or flip assumptions that she’ll make it.  She thinks the biggest challenge to her completing this new feat is going to be her own ability to regulate herself.

Amelia is a social runner by nature who has actually conscripted two of her former Nashville running club training partners to join her for Marine Corps, She’s grateful for the support, though they will only be able to support each other remotely, as they live in different states.  Amelia doesn’t have a plan yet for doing long runs with groups.  But, she knows that Children’s Inn coordinates training meet-ups and once a month, so she’ll most likely join up with those.

Her training won’t begin in earnest until July, so we’ll catch up to her then and see how she’s faring with the heat & the discipline!

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