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CobbtoberRun 2021 - Get to Know the Runners - Keri

Keri

Last year, Steve Scott, a Service Technician for Cobb Technologies, and veteran of the World Marathon Challenge, ran 168 miles from Danville, Virginia, to Cobb’s headquarters in Glenn Allen, Virginia to raise money for Cobb’s charitable arm, Imprint.

This year, four other ultra-runners are joining Steve for a 350-mile relay race across Virginia, ending at Cobbtoberfest 2021. In this interview, we talk to Keri Mandell about the World Marathon Challenge, her history as a runner, and this year’s upcoming run.

 To learn more about Cobbtoberfest 2021, visit Imprint’s event page.

When did you get involved with running?

So, I actually got involved in running much later in life. I was not very active growing up. I watched my first marathon, the Boston Marathon when I lived in MA. But at that time, it was more about standing in the streets having a good time drinking, hanging out with friends, &celebrating Patriots day than anything else. 

I remember watching the runners and saying “Why would they want to do such a thing?”

My life took a dramatic turn about 12 years ago after finding out that I couldn’t have children. That changed the trajectory of my entire life. I became really depressed. And it was yoga and fitness that I attribute in many was to saving my life. In fact, I now am a yoga teacher and studio owner. But from that point forward, I decided to work on and focus on what my body could do versus what it couldn't do.

I wanted to see how strong I could become. I wanted to be the best that I could be. I’m always looking for ways to challenge myself.

In 2013, My dad and my stepmom got sick and were diagnosed with cancer so my husband and I moved back to NJ to help care for them and run the family business. 

When I moved to NJ I started becoming more active in the fitness community. I was doing yoga, spinning, CrossFit…

I actually met a woman at the gym one day that was running on a treadmill. I walked up and asked her what she was training for, and she's like, “Oh, I'm training for the Boston Marathon!” And I was like, I know about that — I used to live in Boston. And before you knew it, I started going to the gym everyday and walking/running on the treadmill next to her. She later introduced me to a local running group, and said I should join them. That was great, as I had just moved to the area. It was a great opportunity to meet new people. Before you knew it, I was training for my first 10 miler, The Broadstreet Run and then the Philadelphia marathon. 

When I was beginning to run, I remember crying a lot, walking and running a bunch and being like, “This is terrible,” but even though it was really challenging and really hard, I stuck with it and wanted to get better at it. 

So my first marathon was the Philadelphia marathon in 2016. And once I completed that, I felt unstoppable, I was like, “This is amazing.” And I wanted to keep running. I went on to complete the six world major marathons: Boston, Chicago, New York, Berlin, London, and Tokyo, and then after that was kind of like, “Well, what's next?”

My favorite quote is; “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” And I try to live my life by that. I try to do things every day that scare me, that challenge me; to push me and my limits. 

I continued to up the ante- I got into CrossFit, triathlons, Ironman, ultra running.

I completed my first Ironman in 2018, and it was after that race I wondered “what's my next big thing?” Someone had told me about the World Marathon Challenge. And I thought that sounded pretty cool. I was like, “Why not? Why not make that my next big goal?” So yeah, running has been quite the journey considering that first marathon was in 2016, and since then, I think I've run 24 marathons in five years.

Wow.

I've done several half marathons, marathons, ultramarathons and many triathlons.

Running has brought some of the most incredible people into my life. Steve, for example, you know, it's just unbelievable; the running community.

So, you’ve done 24 marathons by this point, you're a top class runner. How did you find out about the World Marathon Challenge (WMC)? And then how did you find yourself eventually on a plane flying across the world?

So this woman, Gillian, from my running group, she was like “Hey, did you hear this crazy thing?. They're these people that are running, seven marathons in seven days on seven continents.” And I was like, “That's crazy. Like, who the heck would do that?”

Fast forward — After finishing my Ironman I made the WMC my next big goal.

Throughout the last several years of my life, I have always loved doing physical things, and I love being able to push my limits. And competing in the WMC felt like the next step in my journey. 

I said to my husband Dan, “I want to do this crazy thing… run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.” And he was like, “Okay,” because at this point, he’s kind of used to my crazy ideas. “Well, how are you going to do it now?” 

And I thought, “I don't know but I'm going to do it. I know I will figure out a way." I remember creating a Facebook Live, making it my intention to compete in the WMC. 

I put it out there in the universe. I’m a big goal setter. I set goals, write the down, and then talking about them with other people. This helps them come to life and holds me accountable to get it done. 

I knew that I wanted to do it, but I also knew that I wanted to do it for something bigger than myself. Having lost my dad & stepmom the year prior to cancer as well as a very close friend of mine to cancer, I wanted to use the WMC as a way to support a cause near and dear to my heart. I had the privilege and opportunity to link up with the American Cancer Society (ACS) becoming an ACS ambassador and running the race for them. Over the years, I’ve been able to raise close to $70,000 for ACS. It’s been an incredible partnership. I’ve done some other cool races with them. I believe in their mission to help save lives and end cancer.

What was the challenge like? Is that how you met Steve?

We didn’t really knew each other going into it — everybody had a different reason for participating in the WMC. Some people ran for different charities, themselves, family members….  Everybody was really cool and had a unique story. 

So they take all these folks who are crazy enough to do this thing, and they put us in a room together and you're like, “Okay, these are your friends. And this is who you're going to be living with for the next week. So get comfortable.”

Prior to the race we went to Africa for a race briefing. This gave us a real opportunity to get to know each other and spend some time together before the craziness ensued. I met people from all over the globe — folks from the US on the East Coast, West Coast. People from London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Africa, Australia… it was cool, to get to meet people from all over, with the same common goal - run seven marathons on seven continents and seven days and can we do it! 

And I think that the cool thing is, as I mentioned, we all started as individuals but we ended up being like a family towards the end. There were some competitive athletes — there was a winner for the race… but most of us weren't there to win. We were there for the experience, and everybody really supported each other and helped each other- sharing food/fuel or recovery tools… whatever was needed. Everybody really helped out. Steve and I, we hit it off the bat and we spent a lot of time together.

Steve and I (along with pal Suzie) went to the grocery store to pack sandwiches for folks, we were doing trips to make sure everybody had what they needed. And in Antarctica, it was a really cold — it was much colder than they expected it was supposed to be. 

Typically that time of year is summer in Antartica with temps in the 30s-  like winter in the Northeast — so I'm used to running in 30 degrees like no big deal, but it was more like negative 20 with 50 mile per hour gale force winds. At points during the run, the snowbanks were getting so high, they were above your knees and the wind was just whipping and everyone was freezing. So we kind of huddled together, we kept each other warm by linking arms- a few people in the front and few people in the back, taking turns getting out of the direct wind and getting a little break for a bit. We would switch and rotate. It was a cool partnership and friendship. It was nice to be able to help each other out. 

What was what was your favorite part about the 7-7-7?

Honestly, I think the group of people really made the race. I think if it was a different group of people, it wouldn't necessarily have been the same experience. 

The women, we formed like this girls group which really set the stage for the rest of the event.  Antartica was brutal.  We were all kind of sacred and nervous about being out in the frigid temps. But during those moments of despair is what really bonded us and brought us together. So that was definitely one of my favorite things. 

Just being able to go to Antarctica was really cool… not everybody can do that. They don't let you — you can't stay there. There's no hotels, there's no place to live I mean aside for my he wether stations. It's just an ice desert so not many people have had the opportunity to travel there let alone run there. 

I also enjoyed swimming in the Arabian Sea after the Dubai Marathon which was super humid… cooling off in the water afterwards felt great. 

It's hard to pick one favorite thing because it was it was all pretty special. Australia was probably my favorite race. It was fun, the people were awesome and super friendly, the weather was really nice and the post race food was amazing. On top of that, it was one of the only times that week I got to shower.  

So how did you get involved with the upcoming run?

This summer Steve reached out to me and he was like, “Yo, Keri, do you want to run across Virginia?” I was like, “What do you mean?” And then he explained what his idea was…. I was like, “Yeah, I'm down!” It's a good reason to get some of the gang back together and help support a great cause.

When I can run and be able to give back — well that's a no brained and pretty special.

Have you changed your your workout routine at all to prepare for this run?

No, I have not. I haven't had to either. I enjoy longer distances and have a few events coming up that Im training for so this just helps with those endeavors and works out well in my training schedule. My next big race is in March - Ultraman Arizona. 

Noah Maphis
Noah Maphis
I’m the Director of Community Outreach and Corporate Events and am also the Director of Cobb’s 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization, Imprint. I’ve been involved in nonprofit work since 2017, and have worked on both causes local to Virginia, and across the world, including Costa Rica, and Latvia. In my free time, I like being outside, hanging with my friends and family, and watching Beyoncé music videos.

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