June Runners of the Month: Marie Barnett and Xander Woolverton

Marie Barnett and Xander Woolverton at the 2017 Chicago Marathon

Marie Barnett and Xander Woolverton at the 2017 Chicago Marathon

On April 10, NBR’s youngest member arrived: Oliver, the son of NBR super couple Marie Barnett and Xander Woolverton. Both Marie and Xander are standout runners on NBR’s Local Competitive team, and Marie co-led the Wednesday Mourning Doves run for the past five years until a recent move to Clinton Hill.

The pair met at Oberlin College in freshman year, but didn’t become friends (Marie: “He wasn’t very interesting or intriguing”) until they spent a night dancing together at a party during their senior year (Marie: “Strange dancer but very intriguing.”)

At the time, Marie was a competitive runner. Soon after they started dating, she won her Indoor Conference Championships in the 3,000m and came in second in the 5,000m the next day. Xander watched her train through the Ohio winter for the Boston Marathon, confused about what was happening when she went for long runs during 15-degree blizzards.

“Xander didn’t really understand the sport, the grit, the nuance, and what it meant to me,” says Marie. “I think he choked on his own lungs when he tried to run 3 miles with me during our first year together.” But his competitive personality got the best of him, and he started working to keep up with her, eventually developing his own passion for the sport.

Today, they support each others’ goals and push one another, sometimes training together and sometimes running apart, but always including running in their daily lives. Having a child hasn’t slowed them down. In the two months since Oliver’s birth, Marie has already started adjusting to postpartum running—and Xander has hit a hot streak, setting PRs in both the 10k and the half marathon.

Marie running the Fifth Avenue Mile. Photo by Ken Allen.

Marie running the Fifth Avenue Mile. Photo by Ken Allen.

When did you join NBR and why?

Xander: I joined in 2011 after James Chu spotted me doing a workout at the McCarren Park track. At the time, I was a member of another running club and had been looking for a group with more fast people to train with.

Marie: Xander was telling me how great it was. Then I met some of the women and appreciated the energy and vibe. I was glad to be part of a fun team that had numerous ways to access meetups and each other, at all levels of ability. I also wanted to run faster.

How has running changed for you since having a baby?

Marie: It’s changed so much! I ran up until 40 weeks pregnant (very slow and short), and am now adjusting to integrating my mom body with postpartum running. We have to be more intentional in coordinating to get our runs in. I am motivated to be patient and smart about coming back, and know things won’t feel exactly the same. I know way more about pelvic floors, and my pain threshold is higher! 

Do you want Oliver to be a runner when he grows up?

Marie: Of course, some part of me would love if he becomes a runner at some point in his life, so we can run places together and do some races. While I won’t push him to run, a lifestyle with physical activity is a must in our family.

Xander: I totally agree. I played lots of sports when I was a kid and in school, and I think that playing any sport (except football) is so important.

You are both very fast runners. Are you competitive with each other?

Xander:  When I first started running seriously, Marie was faster than me, and I was definitely competitive with her. But now, I don’t really feel competitive. I try to support her in pursuing her goals, whether they are related to running or something completely different, and I feel that same support from her.

Marie: In addition to agreeing with what Xander said, I still hold fondly the memory of blowing by him in the LA Marathon and beating him by 6 minutes. And I imagine we compare our age-graded percentiles (mine are usually higher) in races more than the average couple… 

Xander: I disagree that her age-graded percentiles are usually higher.

What do you do when you're not running?

Marie: I love spending time with Xander and Oliver doing absolutely anything. I love seeing friends, art, being around plants, dinner parties and of course consuming IPAs, red wine and a good whiskey. Aside from that, I spend most of my time as a clinical psychologist at a cancer center, helping kids, teenagers and young adults make sense of their illness and create their own narrative around life and death. 

Xander: After spending time with Marie and Oliver, I have a very busy job. But I love cooking and spending time with my friends.

What’s your favorite race distance?

Marie: The marathon (grit, endurance, subtle intensity, the buildup), followed by the 5k (far but also super hard, fast training).

Xander: I love the 3,000m and the 5,000m, but really anything on the indoor track. I love the banked turns, the competition of racing and of course that hacking cough you get from the dry air at the Armory in Washington Heights.

What’s your favorite running route in NYC?

Marie: I like routes for different reasons. Running to the Brooklyn Promenade and around the carousel is one of my favorite Doves runs. I also enjoy long runs with an NBR crew running bridges—Brooklyn (only before 7/8 am!), Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro bridge combos—or running around Battery Park and up the West Side Highway (great for long tempos). A daily favorite now is Prospect Park loops.

Xander: Definitely this route which has a tour of the Brooklyn Bridge Park, Red Hook and Prospect Park.

What has running taught or changed about you?

Marie: Running has been part of my life since middle school. My relationship to running has changed with me as I have grown up. It is a form of therapy for me, and running on teams helped me build significant physical and mental toughness. I used to be very anxious and regimented about runs and racing. In other words, my mind got it my way. Now, I have learned gratitude for running, and how to use my mind to push my body harder. And I am amazed that being older does not mean slower.  

Xander: Setting ambitious goals and working to achieve them is what running is all about. When you are 16 weeks away from a marathon, it can be difficult to imagine that, on race day, you are going to be ready to attempt to run 26.2 miles at your goal pace. But if you are honest with yourself, make a plan and stick to that plan, you will be ready.

What is the worst part about being a runner?

Marie: Random running injuries (i.e., when I tripped on a Doves run and literally shattered my clavicle) or deserved running injuries (e.g., chronic overuse, trying to jump into workouts too much). Sometimes I feel sad I don’t have more time to do it; distance running really can be a time drain on the day.

Xander: I’m torn between losing toenails and the inevitability that my body will eventually break down as a result of the hobby that I love so much.

Xander running the Washington Heights 5k

Xander running the Washington Heights 5k

Best advice to running newbies:

You can’t be chasing PRs all year round, so balance yourself by sometimes having goals to just run without a pace or even a watch. (Run to the beach! End your run at a bar!) Remember, you are choosing to run and if it starts to feel stressful or cause anxiety in other areas of your life, it’s time to reset. Coaches, if you have one, can be amazing. Also, don’t only hang out with other runners.

Fun facts:

Marie: I ran up Pikes Peak (a 14,115 foot mountain) while attending a Colorado high altitude running camp in high school. 

Xander: I am starting to suspect that almost all of the outdoor tracks in NYC are 440 yards, not 400 meters.

Current running goals:

Marie: To beat the sh*t out of postpartum running. My plan is to PR in the 5k on my training buildup to a marathon PR in 2020. It seems more possible to run fast after having a baby: Your pain threshold is higher, you tolerate less crap, and you only have limited time for runs, so you have to make it count! 

Xander: Since Oliver was born, I have PRed in the 10k and the half marathon! There’s no way that’s going to continue forever, but I’d love to keep that going as long as possible.  

Marie running at 38 weeks pregnant. Photo by Drew Reynolds.

Marie running at 38 weeks pregnant. Photo by Drew Reynolds.