But, Hinkle, who turns 72 in October, keeps going.
“So far, I’m holding up pretty good,” he said. “I feel like I’m 40 years old. (As long as) I can still get out there and go, I’ll go.”
Hinkle’s even improved his speed. He cut his time in Springfield’s annual Sizzling Mile race down to around 7 minutes 30 seconds.
On Oct. 20, Hinkle is running in Springfield’s first marathon, the Springfield Clinic Springfield Marathon. Along with more than 100 other runners, Hinkle is getting in shape by training with his fellow athletes, boosting Springfield’s running community.
Training for these area residents shapes their lifestyles.
Bringing a marathon to Springfield
Setting up a marathon is no easy task. It requires police support, the ability to shut roads down for more than six hours, sponsors, finishers’ medals and awards, T-shirts and promotions.
Still, race director Bill Stokes wanted to make it happen.
“The idea’s been percolating in my head,” he said. “It was last year I got the idea that it was time.”
The Springfield Clinic signed on as chief sponsor and the University of Illinois Springfield offered its support. The Ronald McDonald House, YMCA, Rotary Club of Midtown Springfield and other groups will help staff water stations along the route in exchange for charitable donations.
The race is on pace to host 1,500 runners in three distances: a marathon (26.2 miles), half marathon (13.1 miles) and 10 kilometers. The runners will start on University Drive on the south side of UIS. They’ll exit the north side of the campus and head out of the city limits into parts of Sangamon County and Cotton Hill Township before eventually finishing back on campus.
Stokes is hosting the training group. The 120 runners meet either Tuesday or Wednesday mornings or Wednesday nights. Then, everyone who’s interested gathers Saturday for a long run.
During weekday meetings, Stokes incorporates full-body training, with an emphasis on core work.
“The stronger your fitness is overall, the better runner you are,” he said.
On a hot Wednesday in August, about 20 people, including Hinkle, gathered to train. Temperatures that day rose above 85 degrees but most everyone was active and eager.
Two months into marathon training and five weeks into half marathon training, the runners said Stokes’ program has already helped them amp up their fitness. He mixes jump roping with yoga, planks and burpees, a four-part strength and aerobic exercise that works the whole body.
“I challenge their weaknesses,” Stokes explained.
Runners can “work off each other’s energy,” Stokes said about training together.
An athlete can gauge his or her performance with someone in the group who’s at a similar fitness level or a comparable running pace.
“That’s the power of group training,” Stokes said. “They start to depend on each other.”
Hinkle ran sporadically at times, but started running more seriously soon after his 2004 retirement from Memorial Medical Center. He started taking care of his sister-in-law, who was battling pancreatic cancer (she eventually succumbed to the disease). He bought a pair of running shoes and just started to take off during his few free hours as a way to deal with stress.
“You really need to get away from all of that for a while,” Hinkle said. “I really didn’t set out to be a runner. I just wanted to get my head straight.”
The first time he ran, he made it just about one block before he was worn out. But he slowly built up his endurance.
“I just kept on running,” he said. “It’s a good time to think, clears my mind.”
Hinkle lives near Lincoln Park so he usually just laces up his shoes and heads out the door. During his exercise, he prays for the people in his life.
While in the zone, Hinkle has been known to get into a deep focus. He’s passed friends and not even realized it until later when they asked why he didn’t say hello. He once even ran straight into a car. No one was hurt.
Throughout the year, Hinkle tries to run every other day. His strives to be in shape to run a half marathon at any time.
He also dedicated himself to helping new runners. Hinkle helps lead Abe’s Army training for beginners who want to run the annual 10-kilometer Abe’s Amble at the Illinois State Fair. The grandfather enjoys helping younger people get healthier.
He makes himself available throughout the 12-week program so if someone calls looking for a running partner, he can be out the door. Once, he went for a run with a beginner, got home, showered, and had just began relaxing in his chair when the phone rang.
“George, I need to run,” someone else said.
So he ran. And then it happened again. Hinkle ended up running the Abe’s Amble course three times in less than 24 hours.
Hinkle ran his first marathon in 2009 at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Las Vegas.
“It’s amazing to me that I could do that,” he said about being active at his age.
He returned to Las Vegas a year later to compete in the same race. He planned to run the marathon a third time in 2011 but was sidelined at the airport with a flight delay.
In October 2011, Hinkle ran Peoria’s Screaming Pumpkin Marathon on his 70th birthday. He said it’s among the most fun experiences he’s ever had. The run takes place at night and when he crossed the finish line, the race organizers and his fellow runners were yelling and singing “Happy Birthday to You.”
“That was just one of the most wonderful experiences,” Hinkle said.
He sometimes runs while pushing his 1-year-old grandson, Ben, in a stroller. They’re even participating in a 5K run together later this month.
“He’ll probably end up going to sleep,” Hinkle said with a laugh.
When he started running, Hinkle didn’t realize his pastime “would be such a consuming” activity, he said.
He’s now run more than 100 races, including a number of half marathons and his three marathons.
“I just really like to race. I don’t need to win,” he said. “I like to be with a big crowd of people. I get a chance to go run and feel the freedom and the joy.”
Working toward a goal
Rochester’s Angela Koerwitz started running three years ago and set her sights on a challenge.
“I’ve always really admired people who had the endurance and the physical ability to do a marathon,” she said.
Early on in her running, she didn’t know if she’d be able to actually finish a 26.2-mile race. When Stokes’ training began in June, she dived in headfirst.
“I want to do this because this will help me stay focused,” Koerwitz said. “It has been amazing.”
“It’s so motivating to have other people to run with, to support you, to encourage you and to have that structure,” she said. Having partners in training provides accountability, she explained. She knows her fellow runners will be there and they’re looking for her.
“I feel stronger with my running now than I ever have before,” Koerwitz said.
When Koerwitz started running, which she did to improve her fitness, she had to work at it. First, she transitioned from walking to some running. Then she ran more than she walked. Now, she’s working to run the marathon without walking once.
“I really experienced the full realm of running,” she said. “It’s a little bit addictive.”
She’s enjoyed both physical and mental benefits. During her 15 hours of running each week, she finds that it allows her to alleviate stress and zone out.
Getting ready for race day
Shopping is often a part of getting into shape. Koerwitz bought moisture wicking clothing to brave super sweaty summer runs. She purchased special toesocks from Injinji, which prevent her toes from rubbing together. Then, there are, of course, running shoes. Koerwitz found Brooks Ghost shoes at the Springfield Running Center. Other brands haven’t been as kind to her feet.
During long runs, athletes often need to refuel. Koerwitz picked up a running belt that allows her to carry water and protein bars so she can stabilize and maintain her energy.
During marathon training, weekend runs get progressively longer, culminating in the actual race. These long runs generally take between two and four hours.
Koerwitz runs four to five days per week, logging two or three days on her own. She runs after she finishes her work as a psychologist for Springfield Public Schools. As running has become a mainstay in Koerwitz’s life, her family, including husband Chris, figured out how to help.
“They’re pretty excited about it,” she said.
They join her when she strength trains, as she completes squats, sit-ups, planks and push-ups. They all participated in the Abe’s Amble. And her daughter, 10-year-old Anna, is a member of Girls on the Run, a nonprofit that aims to help children develop life skills and confidence.
On the days she doesn’t feel like exercising, Koerwitz’s husband encourages her to get a run in.
In addition to exercise, Koerwitz and her family have incorporated the Paleo – or caveman — diet into their lives. She researched the diet during the summer and incorporated it into her family’s meals. Paleo includes a meats, seafood, vegetables and nuts. It’s similar to what our hunting and gathering ancestors ate.
Though Anna and 11-year-old Christopher are still wary of the dietary changes yet, Koerwitz said cutting preservatives and refined sugars has her feeling great.
“It’s just part of our lives,” she said about her active lifestyle and healthy eating. “I’m most excited to achieve my goal.”
Her mind is already on the finish line.
“I’ll just be thrilled,” she said.