As Leah Todd trained for the Country Music Half Marathon the last several weeks at Shelby Bottoms Park, she garnered two distinctly different looks from passers-by.
The gawking has come thanks to the fact that Todd will not simply be running the half marathon. She’ll be hula-hooping the 13.1 miles at the exact same time. And she’ll be doing it at a clip of 14:30 minutes per mile. (For an extensive look at the Country Music Marathon, it's music, changes and competitions plus additional runner profiles, see our spread in Thursday's edition of The City Paper.)
“I always get that crazy stare of, ‘What is wrong with this girl?’” Todd said. “I always try to say hello to break that kind of awkwardness. A lot of people are really encouraging, though, and say, ‘That’s amazing I could never do that.’”
This will be Todd’s second foray into hula-hooping the marathon. Last year she finished the course with an average of about 16 minutes per mile. Not bad for a 28-year-old art teacher who just began hula-hooping in the fall of 2007.
“Running, I hate running,” Todd said, letting out a frustrated grunt at the thought of the conventional way people navigate a marathon course. “I wish that I could, but I guess I get really bored. Hooping it is completely different. It’s easier for me, I’m in the zone. I’m focused on keeping my hoop up.”
Todd said she only drops her hoop a few times over the course of the 13.1 miles.
“When I started hooping, it definitely did not come naturally,” Todd said. “It took me a while to learn how to keep it up. Once I kept it up, it was like running a bike.”
She encourages doubters to give hooping a try, and points out it’s an aerobic exercise for people all shapes and sizes.
“That is what I think is pretty cool about the whole process,” Todd said. “I never thought I could hula-hoop at all. I thought it had to do with really, really small people and it has nothing to do with that.”
Entering her second half marathon, Todd has grown accustomed to the prying glares from spectators.
“It’s encouraging to have people cheering you on, but then I get those crazy stares of people who think I’m weird… which is all the more reason to keep on hooping.”