Jennifer Falloway and Vicky Payne were runners when they were in school until life took the time and desire away from each. Now they are trying to run three major marathons in 2020.
Falloway was on the track team during middle and high school but was a sprinter and not a distance runner.
Payne ran her first race when she was 10-years-old. She said she won the race and that’s where her love of running began.
After high school, Falloway was busy with college classes and then with her career while Payne said that running became a hobby and something for which she no longer conditioned.
The two met in the summer of 2009 and both joined a running group the next year.
“Lisa Clark picked me up one very cold February morning with snow on the ground,” Payne said. “I thought to myself ‘these ladies must be insane.’ The sweat droplets literally froze in our hair that morning.”
By March, the two ran their first race, a 7K.
“We had never actually run a solid four miles, but we were going to give it a shot,” Payne said.
Though neither remembers their race times or where they placed in their age divisions, they do remember the excitement they felt about finishing the race — and the celebration of their accomplishment.
From that point, they began running 5K races and even finishing first in their age divisions.
About a year later, they decided to train for a half marathon. Training over a summer, they ran the Nashville Women’s Half Marathon in September 2010. Unbeknownst to Payne, she was pregnant during that race, but even after she found out, it did not stop her from running for the next seven months. Soon after giving birth, she was back on the roads running again, but now Falloway was pregnant.
“I was just getting started back and she was running while pregnant, so it was a great combination,” Payne said. “We continued our morning runs with the conversations mostly surrounding baby talk.”
The next year, with Falloway pregnant a second time, Payne said she began training for her first marathon, the Kentucky Derby Marathon.
“I wanted to be able to say, ‘Yes, I have completed a marathon,’” Payne said.
She said she only wanted to do one and even thought marathoners were crazy.
The first marathon they ran together was in 2014 in Celina, Ohio, where both finished in under four hours. It was Falloway’s first marathon and Payne’s fourth.
At this point, the two began setting time goals for their finishes and even began considering the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon where runners must meet time standards according to age and gender divisions.
“I wish we could say we got faster and made it look easy, but it was far from that,” Falloway said.
Several marathons and several injuries, along with many unsuccessful races over a four-year period plagued the two, but they did not give up hope.
At the Louisiana Rock-n-Roll Marathon, the two met Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. Both felt the meeting was a sign they would qualify for Boston, but it did not happen.
“I cannot explain how many hours, sweat, tears, laughter, growing friendship, sleepless nights, 3 a.m. runs, lunch break runs, late afternoon runs, we spent together,” Payne said. “What I can tell you is that our determination, persistence, friendship, accountability and hard work never left us.”
During the Jack and Jill Marathon in Seattle, Wash., Payne’s 13th and Falloway’s sixth marathon, both beat their qualifying times.
“Yes, there were tears, but this time, it was tears of joy,” Payne said.
Two months later they cried again when they learned they had missed getting into the Boston Marathon — Falloway by 17 seconds and Payne by one minute and 33 seconds.
“Not only did we miss getting in, but the new qualifying standards were also dropped by five minutes in every age division. So, we had to requalify and be even faster,” Falloway said. “It was hard to not feel discouraged.”
For the next eight months, the two trained harder and smarter, according to Payne, who said they relied on family support.
“My mom would say, ‘when you train, I train,” Payne said. “Honestly there is so much truth in that.”
In July 2019, the two completed the same Seattle marathon where both finished well ahead of their qualifying times.
“Jennifer needed 3:35:00 and I needed 3:40:00 [to qualify],” Payne said. “Jennifer is seven years younger than me which put her in a different, faster age bracket. Our finishing times were 3:21:42 and 3:31:34, respectively. There was no question this time.”
Both agree that with the Boston Marathon in their future, they have raised the bar again with a mission to run the six largest major marathons in the world, which are comprised of Boston, Tokyo, New York, London, Chicago and Berlin.
Both are slated to run the Tokyo Marathon on March 1, the Boston Marathon on April 20 and the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 11 of this year, which will count as three of the six majors.
“There’s no one else in this world I would rather travel on this journey with than her,” Payne said.