every runner has a story

Meet Ken Steckert

► From: Tampa, FL
► Started Running: 1997, at age 42
► trains in Auburndale

Ken likes running fast.  While his approach to training may not be textbook, he discovered what captivates so many of us about the running community – that everyone is welcome and the right way to run is simply to get out there and run. 

People are drawn to try running for a variety of reasons – to lose weight, improve their health, compete in races, or try something new.  How did you get started?

In June 1997, age 42, I moved to Auburndale from Tampa due to work.  After four months here I was not as physically active and had gained 10 pounds and my pants were getting tight.  I was not going to get a new wardrobe.  Between volleyball, basketball, tennis, and cycling, I did aerobic activity one to two times a week in Tampa.  I decided in late October to start riding a bike, except the time had changed and it was dark after work, so I decided to run a half-mile.  Being a numbers person all my life (was a baseball fan from early childhood and was into the stats of the day in the 1960’s), I measured a half-mile, and started out strong, but was on fumes before a quarter-mile and was wasted by a half-mile, completing the half-mile around 4:30.  I set a goal to run a 4-minute half mile.

The following Sunday at church I met Peter Cordero who was running races, and he encouraged me to join him on a country road where he ran near his home in Lake Alfred.  We ran a mile.  I did not take a smart approach; I liked running fast.  So until I could run a mile under 8 minutes, I was not going to run longer than a mile.  I would run the mile and walk the mile back.  Once under an 8-minute mile, then it was to get two miles under 16 minutes before running further.

Peter was successful in November 1997 getting me to commit to running the Gasparilla 5k in February.  I figured I had time to get under 8 minute miles for 5k distance in three months; we were running three days a week.  Peter mentioned some races to me before Gasparilla, but it was not until January 1998 that I was getting to 3 miles under 24 minutes.  He talked about the Park Avenue 5k in Orlando, and I agreed to run it for my first race.

There were over 1200 runners there, and I finished in the top third with a time of 23:15, passing my mentor, Peter, in the last hundred feet.  I was hooked on racing from the first race.  The competitive part of me thought I can compete in my age group.  But what equally impressed me was the atmosphere!  Everyone was encouraging each other.  Unlike basketball and volleyball, where tempers flare with some regularity, and the competitive nature is often “better than you” that was not what I saw at all in the running community.  I also thought this was more like what churches should be like – encouraging each other, not so heavily focused on “right beliefs” and/or “right things.”  In the running community, it was not about anyone having it “right” but encouraging each other to be physically active.

How did your running progress after those initial experiences?

The first year and a half of running, most of my racing was in Orlando, though in the summer of 1998 I ran 2 of the 4 Watermelon races.  But my real connection with LRC began with the 1999 Mayfaire, and then the 1999 Watermelon series when I ran all four races.

The 1999 Mayfaire was unique in a couple ways for me.  That morning I had run a 5k at Universal; it was the first time I raced two 5k’s in one day.  It was also my first race with some hills, and this was before the promenade on Lake Mirror existed, so the race ended running up the hill on Main Street into Munn Park.  As if hills not enough, it rained less than an hour before the race and was miserably humid.  When I finished the race I said I would never run this race again.  But what etched this race in my memory was that a week or two after the race, I received a photo of me finishing the race looking horrible.  I had to run the race in 2000 just to get a good picture!!  But mailing out photos may have been only for 1999; no photo came in the mail in 2000.

In the first race of the 1999 Watermelon series, I was probably in the top 10 overall, but not top 3.  But the Watermelon series was not as big as it is today, and only 30-35 of us ran every race.  I did not win any race, but at the end I was the series winner which stunned me!  The last race of the series was my first race under 18 minutes at 17:59.  In 2002 I won the series again; this time it “felt” more like a win as I won the overall in two of the four races.

It was October 2001 – March 2002, age 46, that I would run my fastest 1 mile to 15k times.

The first race I won overall was the one-mile Red Ribbon Mile at Tigertown in October 2001.  I do not remember who led the race for the first nine-tenths of a mile, but Dave Quarles and I were close together in second and third.  Then in the final stretch, we picked it up, and we both passed the leader, and I had a bit more in the tank to finish in 5:05 and win the race, with Dave second.  I enjoyed many good races with Dave!

One of my favorite races was with Dave at the 2004 Lake-to-Lake 10k.  In 2003, we ran the first 4 miles together, and as we came up Success from Lake Hollingworth, Dave continued strong as I dropped back and over the last couple miles lost a couple of minutes to Dave, as I finished in 38:59.  I was determined that I was not going to fade on Success in 2004.  We ran together again in 2004, and this time we were together past mile six as we came to the sidewalk that curves around down to the promenade on Lake Mirror.  Cannot go side by side on that small stretch of sidewalk, so I decided to let Dave go in front, as I would have a final kick.  As we got to around 500 feet from the finish I was within a couple of strides of Dave and started my kick, and think I briefly moved ahead of him, but he had an answer!  His final kick led to him finishing 2 seconds ahead of me, as I finished in 37:28, which was a minute and a half faster than my time a year ago, and would be my best time at the Lake-to-Lake 10k.  I would not have done that without Dave!

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned about running?

As I noted at the beginning, my approach was not smart, as I put heavy emphasis on speed.  I trained hard, which resulted in many age group wins, and a few overall wins as well.  The 5k was my favorite racing distance with my best time in January 2002, age 46, at the Park Ave 5k with 17:04, and my best age graded time age 52 at the same race with 17:25, age graded time of 14:59.  But with it came with frequent bouts of PF – plantar fasciitis.  I always have to be listening to my body for it creeping in.

This made marathon training very challenging for me, as PF would become an issue.  I was unable to average running over 30 miles a week for my first two marathons.  But then in November 2008, a friend from high school, Steve Richey, found me on Classmates, as I had mentioned running as an interest.  He primarily ran marathons and ultras, and he mentioned training with 9-10 minute miles.  The thought of running that pace had never entered my mind.  But I started doing that, and it worked. I was able to get in some 60 mile running weeks, and in April 2009, I ran my best marathon with a 3:11:37 as I ran with the 3:10 pace group and stayed with them until the last 2-3 miles, and while I did not maintain the 7:15 pace to the end, my fade was only to 7:45; unlike my previous two marathons, where the fades were to over 10 minutes.

While I have had some flareups with PF since, they are not as frequent as they were before when all my training was under 8 minutes, and the average of all running sub-7 minutes pace.

Where are your favorite places to train locally?

The Auburndale-TECO trail, along with the connecting Van Fleet trail is now my favorite place to run in Auburndale.  On the days I primarily walk, I just go out the door and stay in the neighborhood, and I have actually used this time also as a way of getting to know neighbors.  My first 16-18 years of running were primarily in neighborhoods and relatively quiet roads/country roads in Auburndale, but I now prefer the trail because it is totally quiet from auto traffic – and it is only 3 miles from my house.  I do have to get on the roads to get hills – closest to home are short hills (they would only count as hills in FL – ha!) coming up from Lake Arianna  that are just a 200-300 feet, but doing 10 repeats, or up to 20, does get in a good workout.  

A mile east from the 4.5 mile mark on the Auburndale-TECO trail is a hill that is closer to a quarter mile, though lower grade, that I have done at times.  My favorite hill is in West Virginia a mile from where my sister lives.  It has been a few years since I have been there.  It is 1.25 miles with an average incline over 8%, and when there I do it each day to see how much I can improve over the 3-5 days there.  I enjoy uphill training; I despise downhills as that is more pounding and wear on the knees.  I feel like uphill speedwork is the best kind because it builds strength without the pounding that comes training on the flats.  But training on the flats has its place as it is there I can focus on form for improving leg turnover.

What are you most looking forward to next in your running journey?

In December 2011 as I was on my morning run, a car pulled over, and the driver, Harold Titman, asked about running with me, and we started running together 3-4 days a week.  Then a year or two later, Kenny Greenwell joined us, approximately a year later, Mark Brocco joined us.  Harold has recently moved out of the area, but Kenny, Mark, and I meet up to 4 days a week, as more often than not, at least two of us are available to run/walk together.  Motivations change with life; 5k speedwork for as fast of 5k’s as I could do was once the driving factor.  Now it is primarily enjoying the run and the friendships.  With Kenny working to get to 100 half marathon races by age 80, I decided this past Christmas I would attempt to run 100 half marathon distances over the next 5 years. 

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Do you know someone from the Lakeland running community we should get to know better?   There are so many amazing people in our community and we want to highlight them and share their enthusiasm for running or walking and being part of an active community. 

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