Rice runners share thoughts on the marathon and their favorite pastime

When Rice faculty, staff and students aren’t working or studying, many of them spend hours and hours of their free time running. That was apparent Jan. 19 when quite a few of Rice’s runners entered the Chevron Houston Marathon (26.2 miles) or Aramco Houston Half-Marathon (13.1 miles). Below are comments from an informal survey of some of Rice’s runners about these races and about why they enjoy pounding the pavement. (Editor’s note: This is not a complete list of everyone from Rice who entered the Houston Marathon or Half-Marathon.)

A team from Hanszen College raised money for Organization for Autism Research by running in the Houston Marathon and Half-Marathon. Front row (from left): Hannah Huff, Molly Richardson, Rob Griffin and Emily Sartain. Back row: Amanda Kupchella ’12, Chet Kupchella, Dante Zakhidov, Ann McAdam Griffin, Bethany Qiang, Diana Garcia Acero and Dan Harrington.

“My Houston friends were like ninjas – they tracked me through the marathon course and raced to find me to cheer me on, almost every other mile. They were awesome. My wife couldn’t be in town to support me in the race and felt horrible about it. So a friend of ours ran onto the course at mile 20 and ran alongside me while holding his iPad in the air. At first I thought that he was taking a picture of us, but then I realized he was FaceTiming live with my wife, Keila, from her parents’ kitchen in Chicago. She was able to see me run firsthand!”

Daniel Harrington, who completed the marathon in 4:36. Harrington is a faculty fellow in biochemistry and cell biology and a faculty associate at Hanszen College.


“This was my first marathon. It was definitely a challenge. However, the crowd, pace team and faith in my training as well as my mental stubbornness to not stop despite how tired I was are what pushed me to the finish.”

McMurtry sophomore Grace Yang, who placed fourth in her age division with a time of 3:28 and reached her goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. (The qualifying time for Yang’s age group is 3:35.)


“It was a ton of fun this year. I love the new course and the weather couldn’t have been better.”

Tina Villard, who set a personal record (PR) for the half-marathon with a time of 1:40:37 – 2 minutes faster than her previous record – and placed 14th in her age division. Villard is director of the Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center.


“The toughest part of the Houston Half-Marathon for me was between miles 11 and 12. I was starting to feel tired, and the finish line seemed a long way off. But I knew that my husband and our three daughters (two of whom are adopted from Ethiopia) would be waiting near mile 12 to cheer me on. Just as I came up on mile 12, the women leaders in the marathon – all Ethiopians – reached the same spot (mile 25 for them). First, Abebech Bekele blew by looking so strong. She was followed by Meskerem Assefa, Gelete Burka, Biruktait Degefa and Makda Haji. It was such an amazing moment for me and my daughters – to think that somehow the universe brought us all together to share that amazing moment in time – and for them to see such wonderful, strong Ethiopian women just killing the race! It gave me the energy that I needed to finish that mile strong. As my Ethiopian/American daughters get older (they are now 4 and 8), I’m hoping we can run the race together.”

Rebecca Richards-Kortum, who ran the half-marathon – her first – in 2:17. She said she started running about two years ago “to deal with all the stress of being department chair,” and she attributes several PRs in 5K and 10K races to her colleagues. Richards-Kortum is the Stanley C. Moore Professor and chair of the Department of Bioengineering and a professor of electrical and computer engineering.


Regarding what motivates him to run: “I can’t afford therapy. Running, which is much cheaper, has just about the same effect on me.”

Matthias Henze, who just completed his 19th marathon. He said his time of 4:19 was “somewhat disappointing,” given that his PR is 3:26, but he added that “the weather was gorgeous, the crowd support fantastic and the new course greatly improved.” Henze is the Watt J. and Lily G. Jackson Chair in Biblical Studies, a professor of religious studies and founding director of the Program in Jewish Studies.


Regarding the half-marathon: “When a complete stranger does shout out your name, I couldn’t help but give a thumbs up. I think my thumb became cramped into the upright position. I had an amazing time! I do not believe I stopped smiling that day. It was especially a blessing to be a ‘hero’ and ‘Run for a Reason’ [that’s the fundraising program for the marathon]. When I saw my jersey of St. Jude’s, all the charities, all the other “heroes,” I thought every step was helping a child. “Run on, James, and save your brothers’ and sisters’ lives!” Running is just what defines me. It is who I am. It requires a whole life discipline and commitment to be successful, and it is immensely satisfying to see efforts translate into success, as this is not a ‘technical’ activity. I run to be a vessel for God. I run for health. I run for the rush of competition.”

Wiess sophomore James McCreary, who placed first in his age division with a time of 1:16:03. “Technically it was a PR, but in my mind, the goal is never reached until I achieve as close to 0 as possible,” said McCreary, who is a distance runner on Rice’s track and field team.


Offering an alternative to a photo of him running the marathon: “I could draw a stick figure of myself, with my face caked in salt.” (Some runners develop collections of salt on their face as salt leaves the body through sweat.)

Chris Higgins ’91, who said he “dragged myself across the finish line in about 4:36.” He cited this as one of his slowest marathons but noted he didn’t train for it as much as he has for previous events, which include 100-mile races. Higgins is the classroom and scheduling manager in the Office of the Registrar.


Rachel Foster's son, K.J., greeted her with a sign at the half-marathon finish line.

“I like working toward and meeting a goal, and finishing a race is the culmination of all the pain, sweat and hard work I’ve put in for months. My favorite moment was seeing my 7-year-old cheering for me with a big sign at the finish line.”

Rachel Foster, who ran the half-marathon in 2:33. Foster is a senior Web editor in the Office of Public Affairs.


“Running helps clear my mind and de-stress after the workday.”

Joe Rozelle ’99, who set a PR in the half-marathon with a time of 1:33:43 and placed 31st in his age division. Rozelle is a resident associate at Brown College.


Regarding her running routine: “I love to run around Rice and also Hermann Park. It’s a special part of Houston, and Hermann Park reminds me of parks in Paris. I love the people watching and the scenery and, of course, seeing people I know. On Saturdays I run and my husband bikes, and then we cook breakfast. It is a Saturday ritual.”

Kathy Collins, who set a PR in the half-marathon with a time of 1:51:27 and placed third in her age division. Collins is vice president for Finance.


“I run because it’s become a way of life for me. It’s good for my body, mind and spirit. It clears my busy brain, gives me an opportunity to solve the world’s problems (!) and energizes me for the day ahead. I train for the Aramco Houston Half-Marathon because it’s fun to be a part of the largest single-day sporting event in the city. I actually don’t much care for running competitively — don’t tend to perform as well as on my solo runs — but I get a kick out of the hoopla, crowd support and camaraderie that permeates the event.”

Marie Wehrung, who finished the half-marathon in 2:09:23. Wehrung is director of learning and professional development in the Office of Human Resources.


“I have never felt a better feeling than crossing the half-marathon finish line. All of the work you did in the months prior – the early hours, the long runs, running in less-than-stellar weather, pushing through the harder runs – it all comes together in a single moment when you realize you’ve accomplished something spectacular, and something so far beyond what you thought you could do.”

Hanszen junior Bethany Qiang, who, despite being injured in October, shaved 9 minutes off her previous half-marathon time and set a PR of 1:58:50 and placed 49th in her age division – “one of the best moments I’ve had so far in my lifetime,” she said.


Regarding what motivates him to run: “Wellness and improving my performance. I spend significant time with our wonderful culinary staff, and running allows me to enjoy their work … really enjoy their work!”

Mark Ditman, who set a PR in the half-marathon with a time of 1:51:13 and placed 43rd in his age division. Ditman is associate vice president for Housing and Dining.


“My brother has autism, as well as some of my other close family members, so I was motivated to sign up with Organization for Autism Research with other members of my residential college to raise money (through the marathon’s Run for a Reason fundraising program).”

Hanszen junior Emily Sartain, who ran the half-marathon — her first — in 1:57:34 and placed 46th in her age division.


“I am motivated to run to maintain my health. Training and completing the half is more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge. I like proving to myself that I can do it!”

Jeanette Byrd, who ran the half-marathon in 2:08:39. Byrd is a master of Wiess College.


Regarding the half-marathon: “It was absolutely amazing. There was never a spot where people weren’t cheering us on. There was just so much energy and adrenaline flowing the entire time. It was also wonderful to see all the different human beings of different ages, body types and races coming together for this event and running an incredible distance.”

Wiess sophomore Olivia Tati, who ran the half-marathon.


Regarding what motivates him to run: “Personal fitness and fun. Most people think I’m crazy for getting up at 5:45 a.m. (to go running four to five mornings a week).”

Rob Griffin, who ran the half-marathon in 1:45:53 – a PR. He said another motivator to train for the half was to raise money for Organization for Autism Research, which a Hanszen College team did for the second year in a row. Griffin is a professor of civil and environmental engineering and a master of Hanszen.


“I run because it makes me feel good. It keeps me centered and helps me relax in a way other sports don’t. I sign up for marathons because they give me a goal to reach. I trained for this marathon with my girlfriend, (Lovett senior) Hannah Huff, who finished under a minute behind me and qualified for the Boston Marathon.”

Hanszen senior Chet Kupchella, who finished the marathon in 3:27:37and placed 30th in his age division. He noted that he might have gone 2 minutes faster if there had been more port-a-johns near the starting line because he wouldn’t have had to stop during the race.


“Racing is fun, and training burns enough calories for me to eat all the ice cream I want.”

Arnaud Chevallier, who had to sit out the marathon this year, due to an injury. He ran the race the previous three years and set a PR of 2:54. Chevallier is associate vice provost for academic affairs and graduate studies.


“I run because it helps me think through whatever big or small challenges I’m facing at work, in the residential college or at home. Before the race began, as I looked at our team in their OAR (Organization for Autism Research) shirts raising money for a cause important to my family, I felt very lucky to be part of the Hanszen College community.”

Ann McAdam Griffin, associate director for corporate relations in the Office of Resource Development and a master of Hanszen.


“Marathoning is a good metaphor for life and for getting tenure and for being a mom and just life in general. I love, love, love, cheering for people at the Houston Marathon! My friends think I am nuts, but I think I might get more energy cheering than running it!”

Michelle “Mikki” Hebl, who has run a marathon in all 50 states. She was on the sidelines cheering her fellow faculty members and students in the marathon and half-marathon before she left for Antarctica and South America to run marathons on both continents. Hebl is a professor of psychology and management.


Editor’s note: This list was compiled by B.J. Almond, senior director of news and media relations in the Office of Public Affairs, who finished the half-marathon in 1:45:36 and placed 21st in his age group.

About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.