Every runner has a story about how and why they started in our sport. For Colleen Traut, that story starts with a dog and expands, improves and blossoms with – of all things – a pandemic.
Traut, a 52-year-old Poughkeepsie resident, is one of many runners who has grown to love the sport thanks to the community-based running programs started and organized by Kim Caruso at Fleet Feet Poughkeepsie. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit late last winter, Traut’s work-from-home lifestyle suddenly freed up more time for running, walking and hiking.
And now, in 2021, like many other local runners, Traut has reached new heights – thanks in large part to fellow runner and friend Angela Legg’s brilliant Hudson Valley Elevation Challenge, which has spurred on hill-chasing pursuits from Traut and many others.
“I started running in 2017 when we got our dog, Pax,” Traut wrote in an email interview. “We really got him for the kids, but you know how that goes. Now, he’s my consistent running partner and a very good pacer. ”
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Traut said her running was limited to her neighborhood, until she joined a Fleet Feet training group and “never looked back.” She added: “I give Kim Caruso the credit for my falling in love with running. She has built a fantastic, supportive running community, where I have met the most amazing people, have been inspired by them all and have made great friendships. ”
As a business analyst at RQI Partners in Wappingers Falls, Traut’s working life was like so many others: Commuting to a job, working outside the home and attempting to juggle all areas of life. Once the “normal” world came screeching to a halt and Traut and her husband Jim started working at home full-time, it opened up more opportunities for fitness.
“I was working in the office full time before the pandemic, and that made it really hard to balance running, work and life in general,” she said. “Commuting took a lot of extra time, so it didn’t allow for routine runs. Once the pandemic hit and I started working from home, I didn’t have those constraints. ”
Traut and her husband started taking Pax for a walk or run every morning before work, a habit that continues more than a year later. And, since she doesn’t have to pack a lunch or drive to and from her office, Traut can go for a run at lunch or a longer run in the morning. “I’m lucky that my work from home is long term, so I can be more consistent with running,” she said.
Soon after the pandemic hit, Traut embraced the virtual racing world. She placed ninth out of 594 women in her age group in the OneNY 500-kilometer (310-mile) challenge, by logging multiple short runs throughout the day while working from home and completing the challenge distance very quickly.
Because she is relatively new to the sport and enjoys personal challenges that virtual races offer, Traut said she didn’t miss in-person races all that much when the pandemic shuttered the road racing scene. She completed most of the Fleet Feet virtual events in 2020. She logged personal-best times at 5km and the half marathon; she even covered 28 miles at the end of the year as part of a group, led by Steven Estremera of Millbrook, that tackled the Old Croton Aqueduct.
Traut’s path “upward,” chasing vertical challenges, actually started last fall. She and her husband participated in the Shawangunk Runners Club Sky Lakes and Landscapes series. She took a day off each week from work to run the routes with him.
“This is what got me hooked on trail running,” she said. “It was so gorgeous, we always had a great time. We ended up getting Mohonk (Preserve) passes for the year. ”
Earlier this year, Estremera created the Wandering the Mountains Wednesdays, and Traut knew it would be a great fit. “Even if it meant getting up at 3:30 in the morning, I knew each week would be difficult, but I also knew I’d be getting to visit a lot of places that I wouldn’t normally go,” she said. .
Traut didn’t get the Elevation Challenge bug for the first few months, but once she saw her vertical totals were among the leaders of the challenge, she got more serious about it and currently sits in the top 10.
“For the first couple of months, I didn’t try to gain elevation, and I didn’t even log into the website,” she said. “I’m sure the challenge, the Wandering Wednesdays and strength training (thank you Feldman B3 Strength Training program!) Are improving my road running performance. I can now run at a faster pace for a longer time, without injury. ”
Traut calls Legg’s Elevation Challenge – as well as the ancillary challenges that have branched off from them – “genius” ideas. Along the way, Traut has been an inspiration to the group with her positive attitude – and her cookies!
“Colleen is one of the most positive people I know,” Legg said. “She’s a cancer survivor and has also been attending the weekly Wandering Wednesday trail runs. She’s known for her excellent baking skills and she’s been using the elevation challenge to get stronger in her running in general. ”
Traut was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 36, in 2006, when her now-college-age children were 5 and 2. “That was a very scary time for me and my husband,” she said. “I was lucky to have discovered it early, but not early enough to avoid chemo. I went through chemotherapy for several months and actually felt all right most of the time. ”
She said the generosity and support of so many people throughout that time may have led to her baking prowess as her way of “paying it forward.” She also hypothesized that her big scare with cancer may have motivated her to commit to being even more active. “Now, 15 years later, I’m an avid (but middle of the pack!) Road and trail runner, hiker, and cyclist,” she said.
And as for those cookies? Traut said her most crowd-pleasing creation is something called “Cowboy Cookies,” which are big, chewy chocolate chip cookies with coconut and pecans. She volunteered at the Millbrook Marathon and brought those for the volunteers. “They were gone in minutes,” she said.
For the Wandering the Mountains Wednesdays trail group runs, she bakes ‘superhero’ muffins – the crowd favorite is the chocolate banana superhero muffin —- and hands them out before heading to the trails. “This way,” she said, “everyone has something healthy to eat when they come back hungry.”
Traut said she’d like to improve her trail-running skills – rock scrambles going up and being more comfortable on roads and roots going downhill – and she doesn’t have specific road races planned. “At this time,” she said, “I’m enjoying just running for the sake of it, with no obligation one way or the other. The only thing I’m committed to is having fun with it and not getting injured. ”
Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club member Pete Colaizzo, the track coach at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, writes on running every week in Players. He can be reached at email@example.com. For more club information, go to www.mhrrc.org