The Thrill of the Run; Passion for the MTA Community

Longtime MTA member Foti Panagakos enjoys a packed racing season and interacting with fellow members on Facebook.

By Henry Howard

Fotinos “Foti” Panagakos has been regularly running for about eight years. In that time, he has transitioned from 5Ks and a “one and done” marathon to a prolific racer who has finished 38 marathons.

For Panagakos, it’s not the competition that drives him. It’s the thrill of the run.

And it’s also the passion of the running community, which is what keeps him drawn to the Marathon Training Academy crew.

130 Races and Counting!

Panagakos started out like many runners — playing other sports in high school. He played football and was on the track team, where he threw the javelin, shot put and discus. In college, he ran — as part of his ROTC duties.

He ran off and on after graduating from college but then he became interested in running in 2009. And seemingly hasn’t stopped since.

“In 2010 I ran my first 5K and this started my path into racing,” he says. “I signed up to do my first marathon (Steamtown) in 2011, but overtrained and got injured so I deferred until 2012, when I ran my first marathon. It was going to be one and done, but I enjoyed it, and started to run more of them. I also was running all the other lower distances at this time.”

Panagakos has run more than 130 races since he started. In 2016 alone, he ran 22 total races — a 50K, seven full marathons, three half marathons, a 20K, a 15K, a 10K, and a bunch of races that were 5 miles or fewer.

For Panagakos, he relishes the good time he has at the race, and doesn’t concern himself with the time at the finish line.

“I decided a while ago that I would focus on doing more races and not worry so much about my finish time,” he says. “This allowed me to tailor my training and focus more on endurance than speed. I still like to run the shorter races fast, and have a few age group places. However, for marathons, the focus is on running a solid race, with no injuries, and enjoying the experience.”

The Power of the MTA community

Foti and Angie at the River Towns Marathon

Turn back the calendar by a decade, and Panagakos would have no idea that he would be so passionate about running, racing or a Facebook community.

“If you had told me 10 years ago I would be part of an online virtual group (running or otherwise) I would have laughed at you,” he says. “And, if you had told me this group would be so kind, supportive, and fun to interact with, I would have fell over onto the ground laughing. But truth be told, this is what happened.”

With all the political vitriol swirling around social media today, the MTA Facebook group is a welcome break.

“The MTA Facebook group is one of the best things that has happened to me and my running,” he explains. “Honestly, this is really the only part of Facebook that I go to on a daily basis. I rarely go into my main feed, or other groups. One reason is that I really enjoy interacting with everyone, but also I have limited time and would prefer to engage in the MTA site than any others.”

One of the benefits of being an MTA member is a private Facebook group. Panagakos has been a member and client of MTA coach Angie Spencer since 2014.

“In the beginning, Angie provided structure to my training, based on my stage of running and my goals,” Panagakos recalls. “In the last year or so, as I have gotten more experience, Angie has continued to provide the training guidance, but more so, the accountability with completing the training. Experience can sometimes breed complacency.

“Angie is always there to help out, and it is great to know you have her as a resource and support system.”

Toothbrush, dress shirt … running gear

With Judy Panagakos

Panagakos travels regularly for his job. It’s a challenge but he seems to balance work, travel, family and running commitments without a sweat.

“Fortunately, I have a very understanding family, and one that enjoys participating in the race traveling,” he says. “My wife, Judy, took up running a couple of years ago, and has run a number of races up to the half marathon distance. This allows both of us to enjoy the travel and the event. When I am traveling for work, I usually go to the same locations, so I have it down regarding where to run, etc. I also take the opportunity to look and see if there are any local races when I travel, as I always like to race in a new place. Overall, achieving a balance is not easy, but so far I have made it all work!”

Here are some tips Panagakos shares with others who combine traveling and running:

Have a packing list and use it.

  1. Book your hotel first, even if you do not register for a race right away. Rooms go fast and you can always cancel if you decide not to do the race.
  2. Plan to arrive a day or two early if you can. This way if your flight gets messed up you have some flexibility, and you can also get acclimated if there is a large time zone difference.
  3. Bring your race kit with you on the plane – even if you check a bag. You do not want to be without your stuff if your luggage gets lost.
  4. Bring any snack foods and pre race foods that you think you may not find at your final destination with you.
  5. Stay calm in the face of travel difficulties. It’s not worth getting crazy! Even if you miss the race for some terrible reason, there will always be another race.

As Panagakos, heads into another busy racing year, he offers one more piece of advice for runners of all ages and experience levels:

“Make sure that you are always having fun running and racing. Once you don’t, it is time to move on.”

Speed drill

Name: Fotinos “Foti” Panagakos
Hometown: Cranford, N.J.
Number of years running: Off and on since college, but regularly since 2009
How many miles a week do you typically run: Between 20 and 40 depending on where I am in my training.
Point of pride: Completing the Athens Classic Marathon in 2014
Favorite race distance: Marathon, but I really like all distances
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Banana (it was UCAN powder but I can not seem to stomach it any more)
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: AC/DC Thunderstruck and Bruce Springsteen’s Rosalita
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Don’t really have one – I have never seemed to get one to work, I guess I am just not wired in this way
Where can other runners connect or follow you: I am on Twitter (@fotipanagakos) and Facebook, Fotinos Panagakos.

Editor’s Note: We interviewed Foti on podcast episode #159 How Busy People Find Time to Train. In order to get his runs in before work he sets his alarm for 4:30 a.m.!

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