Meet Joy Durdan, one of the most inspiring runners I know in Saint John.
Durdan, 42, is a self-described middle-of-the-pack runner for her age group. But as of Aug. 27, she is in third place in the Run NB standings, rubbing shoulders with high-octane Boston marathoners.
“That pretty much blows my mind,” she says, jogging beside me during track night at the University of New Brunswick Saint John stadium. “I’m pretty proud of myself, really, to be up there.”
It has not come easy.
By the end of this season, Durdan will have competed in at least 30 races, with an average of one or two races every weekend. That includes several half-marathons and one full marathon planned for Moncton in October.
Since the standings are based on points collected for each race, she has managed to accumulate 426 points in 15 races (and that’s not counting events that aren’t part of the standings, such as the recent Marathon by the Sea half-marathon, which she ran in 2:07:52). To put this in perspective, I am in 50th place for my age group, with 48 points from three races.
Durdan has run the half at Marathon by the Sea every year since 2001, but in the past couple of years, she decided she wanted bigger challenges. In 2011 and 2012, she ran her first full marathons, then she ran a 2012 ultra-marathon, which is 50 kilometres. Next, she had her sights set on a 50-miler, but since there are none in the area, she had to find an alternative.
She realized she had made it to sixth place in 2012 “without even trying.” Durdan remembered a friend who had made it in the top three, more because of volume of races rather than speed.
“I decided that’s what I would do,” Durdan says.
“I’m very stubborn and determined, and once I make up my mind, I follow through. That’s what got me through the full-marathons and the ultra-marathon.”
And it’s what will get her through this year, even if it leaves her utterly exhausted. During our run at track night, the usually peppy Durdan is tired. She had just finished a Saturday 10K in Caraquet with a season’s personal best at 54:22. Then she did her long run on Sunday at 18K.
That’s the challenge of training for a full-marathon while squeezing in weekend races across the province.
“The long run is your cornerstone, your building block of a marathon,” she says, sweat beading on her forehead in the hot afternoon sun. “It’s hard to figure that out. If you’re racing on the weekend, how do you fit in another 20 km?”
This coming weekend will be another challenge. She has the 5-km Race Against the Reds in Fredericton on Saturday, followed by a half-marathon in Saint-François-de-Madawaska in northern New Brunswick on Sunday.
Does she ever second-guess her decision to enter all these races, something she figures must of cost upwards of $1,000?
“Ah, let’s see,” she says during our run. “No.
“Sometimes I feel a little down, like I’m trying really hard and sometimes I’ll be hard on myself if I didn’t get the time I wanted to, but I quickly talk myself back in to being positive,” she says.
She is Joy, after all. She’s the person you see smiling at every race, encouraging others to do their best. You’d never know that running is her antidote for depression and anxiety.
“I love everything about running,” says Durdan, who has a 19-year-old son in theatre school and balances her running passion with a job at Je Suis Prest, an uptown Saint John clothing store.
“I love the running community. I love the endorphins,” she says with a laugh. “Running really helps me focus on what’s important.”
Durdan says anyone can tackle their goals, even if they’re not top-calibre speed demons. She’s proof.
“There are no limits, only the limits you put on yourself,” she says. “If you don’t go for it, you’ll always wonder what would have happened. So just go for it.”