Newport News' Cheryl Lager excels in ultra running

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Cheryl Lager is training for a 200-mile race over Memorial Day weekend in Florida

Cheryl Lager is training for a 200-mile race over Memorial Day weekend in Florida

  • Cheryl Lager has run 75 races of 26 miles or longer
  • She is training for a 200-mile run in Florida
  • She has finished six races of at least 100 miles

All Cheryl Lager wanted to do was shed a few pounds.

Competitive running? Please. She didn't have an athletic bone in her body.

Marathons? She was more interested in her next cigarette.

Ultra-marathons? Distances of 50 miles, 100 and beyond? Legs burning, feet swelling, mind hallucinating? She had no concept.

Join a gym, walk on a treadmill, get in shape. That was the plan.

Fourteen years later, the plan is to complete Wickham Park, a four-day, 200-mile ordeal staged Memorial Day weekend over a treacherous trail in Melbourne, Fla.

How Lager, a 44-year-old Transportation Security Administration agent at Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport, morphed into an habitual ultra runner is a testament to grit, genetics and obsession.

"She had a path, and attacked it," said her sister, Cyndee Hatton. "She's very good at mapping out a plan and following that plan. She's always been focused and disciplined, just on different areas of her life, like raising her (two) kids.

"I've crewed for her. I've seen the pain first-hand. … Sometimes I just think she's crazy. They're all crazy."

Crazy doesn't begin to describe. Humans simply aren't built to run 50, 100 or 200 miles.

There's crushing fatigue, physical and mental. There's constant pain, and not just in the legs. The neck and shoulders throb, too.

And just for kicks, depending on the course, there's potential danger in the form of roots, rocks and fallen trees, particularly at night, when competitors often wear miners' headlamps.

"It's easy to accept that kind of pain when you know it's temporary and the satisfaction is permanent," said Lager, a Nebraska native and former Army MP.

Lager began accepting the pain of serious distance running in 2001, completing her first marathon, in Indianapolis. Her time, 3:49.50, a pace of 8:45 per mile, was outstanding for a rookie. As was the 3:58.16 she ran less than a year later at the Boston Marathon.

Lager has run 75 races of marathon (26.2 miles) or beyond, about nine per year. Before that were scores of shorter events — the ubiquitous 5 and 10Ks, half marathons.

So many that Lager had dozens of the T-shirts sewn together for blankets. So many that the medals and trophies occupy crates in the closet.

The first was in 2000, a 10K she finished in 54 minutes, a credible pace of nine minutes per mile.

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