Lives in: Westbrook
Think distance running like 10Ks, half and full marathons are only for the very young?
Polly Kenniston, 74, of Westbrook, has been a staple of long-distance running events in Maine, New England and across the country for more than two decades. Locally, Kenniston has run in every Beach to Beacon since the race’s inception, and for the past two years she has won her age bracket competing against dozens of other area athletes.
Kenniston isn’t just a local runner. Over the years, she has competed in the New York Marathon, the Boston Marathon, the Chicago Marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. – where she took second – and even several West Coast marathons in both San Diego and San Francisco. She is also considering traveling to St. Petersburg, Fla., this month to participate in a new marathon being started there. While Kenniston does well in these larger races, she has made a habit of dominating locally. Kenniston trains by herself, and while she does do some cross training on bicycles, she primarily practices just by running.
Q:How did you get involved and how long have you been involved with your sport?
I first started 24 years ago. Women weren’t really doing a lot of running until 1969 or so, and while I had spent some time running around my neighborhood, I had never competed. My first race was the Oakhurst 4-miler, and after I entered that race, I discovered that I liked it. I started competing more, and really by the second year it became like a year-round thing. I just kept doing it. Once I had done a 10K, I was able to move on to the Maine Half-Marathon – I have always placed high in that every year, and it’s a great race.
What fuels your passion?
I just really love running. I love what it does for my mind and my body. It is a great way to remain healthy with very little effort, although for some people it requires more of an effort. But it is not a big effort for me. I like hearing the cadence of my shoes on the street in the early morning – I just love the whole thing.
What female athletes have inspired you?
There are so many. Joan Benoit is obviously the biggest – she is just a very inspiring woman. Another one would be Kim Moody. And someone else I think is a big inspiration is Sheri Piers, who is just wonderful. I see her out running sometimes, and she was here working for Westbrook track a while back. She was always so encouraging and complimentary – she is really just an amazing gal. But there are many, many women out there that you have to admire. I am 74, but I often see 80-year-olds out there running, which is very impressive. It seems like when I am out racing, I see a lot of the same faces. It is always rewarding, and we are always hugging and laughing and saying, “here we are again.”
What are your goals?
I have been at least thinking about doing triathlons. I haven’t done one yet, but it’s out there, and I have thought about doing a tri. I also really like competing in any newer races, although I probably won’t be entering any more that are across the country. I prefer being around here, and the jet lag combined with running is just brutal. It’s really hard to make that adjustment – you do it, but it’s not pleasant. There is actually a race in St. Petersburg that I am thinking about doing. It is 15 days after the New York (marathon), but I have been thinking about it off and on, so we will see what happens
What advice do you have for a woman taking up your sport?
She needs to be in good health. I also think there has to be a really strong desire. You work yourself up to 10K, and then work toward a half-marathon. If you get yourself that far, there is not a doubt in my mind that you are going to go for a full marathon. Once you get up to a 10K, though, you start to realize how great it is. In short races, you tend to beat yourself up a little bit trying to for fast time. After a while, you start to enjoy it more, and you are not killing yourself. You just build yourself up toward 4 and 5 miles, and then you work on the 10K, and then the half. Once you get that far, it’s in you, and you should always be wanting to do a little more.