It takes two - the married couple with years of running ahead
It is said that the key to a happy and successful marriage is doing things together that you both enjoy and planning new adventures as often as you can. For Satomi and Gary Abrahamsen that advice rings true and running ticks those boxes.
The couple, who have been married 30 years, met in the US, then lived in Satomi’s hometown of Tokyo, Japan for eight years and are now settled once again in the US in Gary’s hometown of Camas, Washington State.
Gary, age 61, began running back in 2000 to lose weight when they made the move back from Japan. Since then, he has transformed from an unhealthy 235 to 175 pounds, his resting heart rate has reduced considerably as his fitness improved, and he ran his first marathon at age 58.
He says: “Running has really transformed my life. I have become so much healthier. I hardly ever get sick now and my body feels closer to the age that my mind thinks it is. My biggest achievement so far though has to be getting through thyroid cancer treatment and running strong out the other side.”
Gary was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2007, when doctors discovered a lump on his thyroid and he had some loss of feeling in his left hand. He began treatment the same year, and over a period of months underwent two surgeries, was prescribed a low iodine diet and was given radioactive iodine treatment.
“I felt that the positive mental aspect of exercise was really important for me throughout these difficult months,” he says.
“I knew that I would be lacking in energy but I actually felt at my best when running, though my fatigue was definitely at its worst after.”
Thankfully, he was given the all clear following the treatment but still goes for annual ultrasounds and blood tests. Gary feels running was such an important step for him in getting through each day, that and the strength and support of his family.
Satomi decided to follow in Gary’s running footsteps, when. in 2014, at the age of 52, a friend invited her to join a half marathon. She had never taken part in a race before then but managed to take third place in her age group. From there, she didn’t look back. She completed her first Abbott World Marathon Major in 2018 at the Boston Marathon and followed up with the Bank of America Chicago Marathon the next year.
She says: “One of the biggest benefits running gives me is the mental aspect. When I feel down, I can just leave home and run outside. For me that is the best medicine. Then there’s the physical side – who knew I could get such good calf muscles at 52! I don’t ever want to lose them.”
They almost always run together, three times a week, covering an average of 14 miles a week, and do longer runs when training for a race.
They were ready to kick off their training together for the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon - which would have been Gary’s first Major - until COVID-19 put those plans on hold. Despite having to change their plans last year, they both struck lucky in the lottery for the 2021 BMW-Berlin Marathon and are looking forward to that adventure later this year.
The pandemic hasn’t stopped them from continuing to log miles together, and they found their motivation by joining the Global Run Club and completing all six of the fall 2.6 City Challenges.
Gary says: “In a time of isolation, it became something to connect us and a future to look forward to. When our plans to run an actual Major were cancelled, we still needed goals and the club has given us that.
Satomi adds: “I LOVE seeing world statistics. I saw runners from so many countries taking part and a wide age range after the 5K Test Your Tempo Challenge. It has really motivated me and made me feel we are all connected through running. We are GLOBAL citizens.
“I managed to rank fifth in the Chicago 2.62 Challenge and I am so proud of that. It showed me that I can compete with runners around the world.”
So, when it came to deciding what to buy each other for their 30th wedding anniversary this year, they were definitely on the same page. They both surprised each other with a Global Run Club face mask!
Gary explains: “Her order came first, so when I came home and saw it open on the table I thought she opened my mail! At first there was confusion, as she looked at me like I had lost my marbles. We both had a good laugh at how we were so in synch with our gift giving!”
Even after three decades together, they are continually motivated and inspired by each other.
Gary says: “Satomi drives me to get faster. I still don’t know why I can’t catch her. Seriously though, we can trace back most of our goals to seeds that the other one has planted in our heads. We succeed together.
“I don’t have the physical ability like Satomi does, but I see no reason why I can’t have a top-level mindset to push what I physically have to work with. With the mind pushing the body, the body can get better.”
For those in their 60s who are thinking about adding some exercise into their lives, Gary has some wise words.
“Move. Do anything – walk, skip, scoot – just get moving. No, you may not be as fast as you were in your younger years, but you are definitely faster than your sofa. Tell your mind you can and go easy until you know your body has got it and don’t let what you can’t do now, stop you from what you can do in the future.”
Never a couple to sit back and reflect on their lives so far, their next big goal is to finish all six Abbott World Marathon Majors but above all else, they want to stay healthy and keep running together.
Gary says: “We may never complete our Six Star journey, but maybe we can set another goal and be the oldest married couple to run a marathon together.”
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* Note: Always consult a physician and get a full health evaluation prior to marathon training. Even if athletes appear healthy, or to have a disorder under control, underlying medical conditions could exist.