Cari Masek started running in seventh grade when two of her friends thought they should all do cross-country together.
Her friends never showed up but Masek did. And she continues to show up as a runner (completing 34 races in 2017) and as a coach (eight teams and counting).
It was a slow beginning for Masek. She didn’t have running gear so she wore jean shorts to practice.
“My race times were slow,” she recalls. “I got picked on for how I looked, and of course, those jean shorts, but I didn’t give up.
Finding and dishing out running inspiration
In high school I ran varsity cross-country and track. In cross-country meets, only the top five finishers count toward the team score. I was consistently number six for my team. My times didn’t factor into the scoring, but I continued to get faster and by the end of the season I won the most improved runner award.”
When she was in her 20s, she was a casual runner. She ran for fun with her dog. Ten years ago, she gravitated toward races again when she bought the Nike+ sensor and began tracking her mileage.
“I joined a local running group and other members of the group were training for marathons and half marathons,” Masek says. “In 2010 I ran the Flying Pig Half Marathon in Cincinnati with some friends from the running group. This was a very hilly and challenging race. At that time I had no desire to proceed to distances beyond the half marathon.”
Finding the MTA community
A year later, she found inspiration in the form of two friendly voices on a running podcast — Trevor and Angie Spencer of Marathon Training Academy (MTA).
“After just one episode, with Trevor telling me I had what it takes to run a marathon and change my life, I signed up for the 2012 Air Force Marathon,” Masek says. “Marathon training would have to wait though because instead of running I would be eight months pregnant on race day and receive my only DNS (did not start) in a race.”
A year later, she finished the Air Force Marathon — her first — and met Angie and Trevor at the race.
“Even though I don’t work with Coach Angie personally, she inspires me greatly because we are the same age and have very similar personalities,” Masek says. “Hearing about her accomplishments is what inspired me to take on the ultra marathon distance, qualify as a Marathon Maniac, and complete a one-year running streak. I look forward to hearing what running adventures Angie will take on next.”
It’s not just the Spencers that makes the MTA community great, it’s all the runners who feed the group’s energy.
“I have learned so much and absolutely love listening to the MTA podcasts,” Masek says. “One of my favorite segments are the shouts outs at the beginning of each podcast. It is exciting and motivating to hear what other people in the MTA community are accomplishing.”
She was among those who participated in the first MTA Virtual Race last fall. “My MTA virtual run ended up being very challenging and rewarding because I ran strong despite choosing an uphill course. Although I enjoyed the experience my neighborhood is very hilly and next time I may be more intentional to pick a flatter course.”
Speedwork loves company
Masek says she also is blessed to be a part of local running groups that are very supportive and encouraging. Her local RRCA group, The Ohio River Road Runners Club, holds multiple races of various distances throughout the year that are free for members. She also trains with the 5 Rivers Running Team.
“We compete as a group in team series events of various distances,” she explains. “I am so grateful for the support I have received from other runners in this group, as well as our weekly speedwork sessions at the track. I attribute my half marathon PRs last year to training with this group. Speedwork seems to be more effective when done together. A group of us also meet on Saturday mornings to do long runs together.”
She takes advantage of the free races with her RRCA membership, completing 12 last year. Overall, she ran 34 races last year.
Masek’s favorite distance is the half marathon “because it is slightly easier to train for and recover from than a full marathon.” She ran seven half marathons last year, trying to break two hours. “Every half marathon seems to motivate me to continue to improve,” she says. “My last race was a 1:58:01 so now my next goal is to run under 1:58.”
She has also run two 50Ks. “For me ultras are more about the experience than about racing. I simply enjoy the course, the quiet, nature, and running without any time expectations. With trail running I feel less pressure for specific time goals, and simply run for the experience.”
The family that runs together
With such a frequent race schedule how does Masek keep herself from injury?
“I believe the key to racing injury free is to listen to your body,” she says “I have heard Coach Angie say this many times on the podcast, and it is one of my favorite pieces of running advice. I have not had a running related injury in over 20 years.
I pay attention to any soreness and rest when needed. Although I completed a running streak last year, I ran many of those miles slowly with my daughters. The trail races I have run are also significantly slower than race pace.”
And Masek doesn’t take her daughters out only for easy runs.
“I have three daughters and they all love running,” she says. “My oldest daughter, Jaina, is 12. She started asking to run with me when she was 4. When she was 7 she set a goal to run a 5K. She has now run 10 5Ks with me. This year she is in eighth grade and participates on her school cross-country and track teams.”
Jocelyn is 5 and also loves running, Masek says. “Last year during my year-long running streak, Jocelyn ran 68 miles with me. We run a one-mile loop through our neighborhood together. She also participates in the local kids running program that I coach and has completed five races between a quarter to a half mile.”
The youngest daughter is Ancika, age 3. “She runs only occasionally, although she keeps asking to run with me.”
Young and old inspirations alike
Masek sees a four-hour marathon in her future. She also would like to win a local 5K race after finishing third overall female the past two years. Most importantly, however, her long-tern goal is to finish a marathon in her 80s.
It should come as no surprise then that among her inspirations is Ed Whitlock, the late Canadian runner who passed away last year.
“He ran a sub four-hour marathon in his 80s, and set many age group records in his later years,” she marvels. “I am still training to run that fast and hope to run sub four-hour marathon one day soon. Hearing about older runners is so inspiring and gives me hope that I will be able to keep running for many more years to come.”
Masek is also inspired by the kids she coaches. She has coached eight teams thus far.
“I absolutely love watching these kids train and compete,” she says. “I am honored to be a part of their journeys and be able to share my passion for running. These kids work so hard and continue to push me to train and run my best.”
Perhaps it’s these young runners who take Masek back to when she was a jeans-clad, middle-schooler trying to figure things out and beginning her own running journey.
“Lastly, I am inspired to keep pushing myself as I am still able set new PRs in various distances. I am amazed at the progress I have made over the past 25 years. I am no longer the girl who used to be nervous at the thought of finishing a 5K. Running has given me a confidence that has truly transformed my life.”
Name: Cari Masek
Hometown: Euclid Ohio, suburb of Cleveland. Currently lives in Dayton, Ohio.
Number of years running: 27
How many miles a week do you typically run: 20-25
Point of pride: My favorite race last year was running with my third-grade running buddy from Girls on the Run as she completed her first 5K. I am also the head coach of the Centerville XC Striders, a cross-country running group for kids kindergarten through sixth grade. I am proud of the opportunity I have had the past five years to encourage these kids. My favorite moment of the season is warming up with the kids and taking group pictures before their races.
Favorite race distance: Half marathon. I have now run 20 half marathons. It is the easiest to train for and recover from. I also love the medals and numerous half marathon PRs I have run.
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: pre-race banana or oatmeal. During race, Tailwind.
Favorite piece of gear: Garmin 235
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Girl on Fire — Alecia Keys; Glorious- Macklemore
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Set Goals, Crush Goals, Set More Goals to Crush!
Where can other runners connect or follow you: I am starting a blog: runcari.wordpress.com