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June 2022-AJ Prouty

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself. (Where you’re from, what you’re doing now…etc)

A: I was born and raised in Harvey, ND.  I participated in summer softball, volleyball, golf and I was on the football team (no, I did not play).  When I graduated high school I completed three semesters at the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND before transferring to SDSU in Brookings, SD and completing a Wildlife and Fisheries degree.  Most people know I really love birds and it stems from my time learning while I attended school.  I wasn’t able to obtain a wildlife job in the Black Hills, so I went back to school for nursing through USD in Rapid City and graduated in December of 2019.  I was dumped right into a global pandemic as a fresh graduate within the hospital which was exciting, stressful and full of information overload.  Currently, I’m gypsy-living as a travel nurse and make it back home when my schedule allows.

Q: How long have you been running and how did you get started?

A: It was on and off for a long time.  I actually quit basketball in third grade because it was too much running.  And, I hated the mile run in gym class.  It just wasn’t for me.  Golf and riding my bike were both much more my speed.  My former gym teachers find my current long-distance running hobby ironic and entertaining.  But, I think they are also amazed at it considering my lack of motivation as a child.

I mostly rode my bike at SDSU, but I started jogging a bit because the guy I dated briefly was a runner and I lived with a viszla who needed exercise.  I would take her with me.  I definitely didn’t run far or regularly at that point in time.  When I moved to the Hills, I gained a rat terrier who needed a job and loved running.  I was very much a fair weather runner starting in 2012 to keep him active and alleviate his antics in the house.  I did two half marathons that year and then a softball injury kept me from running a lot for a few years.  The first half marathon had me addicted, so this was unfortunate.  Repeat injuries eventually led me to physical therapy to gain some strength and keep me running.  At this point it had become an activity I shared with my pups.  We all needed it and enjoyed it.  After a few years, I learned the value of maintaining my fitness level through the winter.  It’s an added bonus that it gets me moving and outside.  With my job, it’s also therapeutic and an excellent stress reliever.  

Q: Would you rather run with a group or alone?

A: I love both for different reasons.  I’m not a super social person, but I love my time with people on group runs.  I look forward to it.  I have met so many amazing people and I wish I had done it sooner.  I also love that they keep me moving and challenge me.  I never knew I would like it and I was very hesitant to join.  Kyle Kranz was the one who encouraged me to start showing up.  It has also helped me learn and see new running routes in town that I never would run by myself.  But, I also love my time alone just putting one foot in front of the other and listening to the birds, wind and enjoying the run.  

Q: Do you prefer roads or trails?  

A: I like being outside in general.  I love trail runs because I love the challenge, the solitude, the woods, the smells and the sounds.  Road runs are nice and convenient because I can walk out my door and go for a run.  I don’t necessarily have to travel anywhere for a road run, but I can for training experiences and still see cool things.  I don’t have to think about my footing and I can just go and shut off my brain.

Q: What is your favorite distance or race?

A: My favorite distance falls somewhere between 16 and 26.2.  I feel accomplished and fulfilled after a good long run.  The marathon is probably my favorite race and that distance, 26 miles, holds significant personal meaning for me.  Finally hitting the finish line after the training and work is very rewarding.

Q: How do you stay motivated when you don’t want to run?

A: I will check the weather for the week to see when I can schedule my ‘no-run’ and ‘long-run’ days.  I know I’ll feel better so I tell myself to get my butt out the door.  It always feels better when I’m done versus when I’m arguing with myself about going out.  Those super cold and super hot days are never fun, but it’s better when done.  And, usually I have a pup waiting to go with me if it’s a shorter run day and weather appropriate.  For extra motivation, I can put a race on the calendar and that deadline gives me something for which to strive.  My friends are great accountability buddies.  If I know they ran and got out there on some of the worst days, then I know I have no excuse.

I also remember my ‘why.’  I do have a pre-existing condition and running helps me manage my health and weight.  While at UMary in Bismarck, I topped out somewhere around 165 pounds from my medication side effects.  For my height, it was too much.  It did not matter if I exercised or ate less, unfortunately.  My doctor switched my medications and it was all I needed to help lose the weight (this coincided with riding a bike and eating appropriately).  But, I told myself I would maintain to the best of my abilities because it definitely affected me on multiple levels.  So, I run.

Q: If I didn’t run I’d ………..

A: Eat a lot of food.  Or, maybe it would be less?  I eat a lot of food now.  I enjoy birding, cooking, quilting, golfing, dog sports, hiking, camping, and so many other things.  I’m sure I could fill my time.

Q: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about running?

A: The most rewarding thing for me is the friendships I have formed through running and the Club.  I have met so many amazing people through running and they have all been super supportive which was something I didn’t have before group running.  It was something I didn’t know I needed.  Through running I have gained an amazing support system for life and not just for running.  

Q: What is your favorite running memory?

A: I think my favorite memories come from the whole spring last year when a group of us trained for the Black Hills 50 Miler.  It was amazing to see everyone every weekend.  We were running together, supporting each other and having fun.  During that time I recall an accidental 24 miler on the Dakota 5-0 course…*cough* Dan..  I’m not sure any of us had enough nutrition that day, but we all enjoyed it and we ran it together.  I have also noticed, whenever I run with Erika, there is almost always a bird encounter – geese, grouse, etc.  When you can feel the beating wings of the gander goose…run faster.

Q: What’s the most valuable lesson you have learned from running?

A: I’ve learned a lot about perseverance and the importance of struggle.  With running you have to struggle to succeed.  Running takes time, effort, perseverance and consistency.  It helps to have support and crazy friends with you.  Not everyone understands why you want to run for fun without a bear chasing you.  I have proved to myself that I can do hard things.  It has helped me get through other difficult paths in life and difficult sections of races.  I have watched, followed and cheered for my friends as they run, struggle, and do hard things.  Mile 22 gets tough, but there is always a finish line waiting.  Running is hard, but it is so very rewarding.

Q: What are your running goals for the future?

A: I am headed to the Chicago Marathon with a group later this year and I have a couple other marathons on the docket to try to qualify for Boston.  It has eluded me thus far.  I’ll run a couple trail runs this year and maybe consider something bigger in the trail world next year.  I am scheduled to run the Bighorn 30K and the Black Hills 50K.  This year seems to have been dedicated to mostly road running and marathons with some trail fun on the side.   Otherwise, stay tuned…

Q: Who inspires you most?

A: I have a friend who was diagnosed with CRPS (complex regional pain syndrome).  She had debilitating pain in her right foot from an accident.  She tried everything, including years of physical therapy and addictive pain medications and she lost her mobility with the amount of pain she was experiencing.  She decided to move forward with a below the knee amputation and it has done wonders for her.  She has a prosthetic and was approved for a running blade.  She has her mobility, life and smile back.  She fought for all of it and now leads an amputation support group where she lives.  Aside from her story, every runner I have met and run with has a different story.  They’re all amazing.  Runners come from all walks of life and we all pick it up at different ages.  Running is what brings us together.  We push our bodies to extraordinary limits to reach goals.

Q: What advice do you have for new runners?

A:  When you first start (and always), never compare yourself or worry about your pace and time.  That all comes with time and consistency; you can’t force it.  Give yourself grace.  Enjoy it, but also expect it to be hard.  If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.  Running does get easier the more you do it, so find an accountability buddy or a coach to help keep you moving on those hard days.  Find a support system and/or join a group.  I found it gave me something to look forward to, but it was also a group with a common passion.  I also recommend keeping a good physical therapist in your contacts list for any injuries that pop up along the way.  If you set reasonable goals for yourself, I think you’d be surprised what you can accomplish.