Teachers find joy in running marathons


By Ekrem Koseli, staff writer 
The average person in Africa walks six kilometers to find dirty water and carries it back to their home in a five-gallon jug. Math and Science Division Head Keith Bellof couldn’t get that dismal reality out of his head. This past summer, he participated in a fundraiser where he carried a jug of water on his shoulder for that very same distance.
“My goal for the event was to raise enough money to be able to provide water for 10 kids per mile,” Bellof said.
Running the 6K for Water event twice before the first day of school, he was able to fund water provisions for 125 children.
Bellof extended his efforts to his running, participating in marathons to raise money to help get clean drinking water in Africa.  He has raised roughly $50,000 so far, largely through Prospect donations. Bellof is one of many Prospect staff members who have taken up marathon running in recent years including social science teachers Dave Schnell and Erik Hodges, physical education teacher Cristen Sprenger, and math teacher Michael Riedy.
Bellof, Schnell and Riedy had never participated in any serious athletic activities for years before they started running. Bellof began running in 2007 and has competed in 17 marathons since then. His training schedule has him running somewhere between eight and 20 miles in Busse woods before 5 o’clock in the morning, coaching a group of 20 to 30 runners of varying experience.
“Probably about 10 years ago I started trying to get my fitness life back in order,” Bellof said. “I definitely have more energy, I sleep a whole lot better, and I get up really early in the morning around 4:30-4:45 [a.m.].”
Before he began running regularly, Bellof would experience knee pain at the end of a long day from standing on his feet for so long. Now, after he has adopted running as a regular activity, he no longer experiences pain.
Schnell was motivated by his peers’ healthy habits and wanted to adopt physical activity into his life as well.
“I would have lunch with Riedy and he was talking about how he and Bellof were going running in the morning,” Schnell said. “I honestly just thought that, ‘I just need to do something. If these guys can do it, I can totally do it.’ It was literally just that.”
Schnell said his only physical activity before that was walking to work.
“I just wanted to do something that would keep me active and not just not being very sedentary, and I was totally sedentary before,” Schnell said.
Schnell believes that the training has been very difficult for him, but he is impressed with what he has accomplished.
“I thought [training for a marathon] was just crazy,” Schnell said. “And then the next year I just signed up to do it.”
In order to manage their time well, marathoners usually need to wake up early and sleep sooner to have energy throughout the day. Running sessions can last up to three hours.
“I would meet [Riedy] and [Bellof] at a quarter to [5 o’clock] in the morning and it was hard to get up. There were several moments where I just wanted to quit,” Schnell said. “It was hard and I was like, ‘This sucks; this is stupid. What am I doing?’ But then I just keep going, and it just started to get easier as I went.”
A marathon veteran, Sprenger has been running for the past 11 years and has run 11 marathons following her long career in both cross country and track and field at the high school and college levels. Sprenger and Bellof have been training together for this year’s Chicago Marathon.
“I have learned a lot about myself as both a runner and the average person. You need a lot of discipline when training and racing a marathon,” Sprenger said.  “It is a big time commitment but worth every minute on race day.  You learn that anything is possible.”