This isn’t your typical running feature story.
We all know that every runner has a story. Some are more interesting and amazing than others, but everyone has a different take on what running means to them and how it has impacted his or her own life.
Such is the case with Ryan Shrum.
Ryan has lived in Chattanooga since 1982 after spending his childhood in Indiana. As is the case with a lot of young boys who grew up in the Hoosier state, Ryan was hoping to one day be a great basketball player.
“I loved basketball and would play for hours on end, but I was never any good. I just didn’t have the skills necessary,” he said while relaxing in the lobby of the downtown YMCA Wednesday afternoon.
Shrum later graduated from Rossville High School in 1986 and he played football, basketball and baseball for the Bulldogs. It was there where he was introduced to running as he was a miler on the track team.
Ryan was married for a time in earlier years and is the proud father of two children, 29-year-old Seth, and Madison, a daughter who just turned 19.
Ryan’s life went in the wrong direction at that time and he started hanging out with the wrong crowd and making bad decisions. It eventually came to a head and that’s when the slender 47-year-old fellow decided to make some changes.
The decisions he made were good ones, including the choice to start running again. It all but saved his life.
He had been in the business involving the sales and installation of granite countertops. There was an incident in 2003 where his drinking and drugging had taken top priority and he began to care less and less about other more important areas of his life.
“In 2001 I weighed 185 pounds and was in really bad shape as I was drinking heavily almost every day. I got laid off from my job in 2003 and my life went in a downward spiral for the next year and a half.
“I had a vision that I was going to die and it scared me. My last drink was on Oct.
18, 2005 as I had hit rock bottom,” he said, knowing how far down in the hole his life had dropped before making the decision to change things.
“I knew that I couldn’t hang out with all of my old friends because I would start drinking again. Madison was playing soccer at Camp Jordan and I started running on that track over there. I was running about two or three miles on two or three days a week and I also went on a crash diet and lost a bunch of weight,” he recalled.
So basically, running took the place of these other bad habits. He’s really turned into a very good runner and he’s more healthy and happy now than ever in his life.
“I don’t think I drank any water for 10 years as everything was alcohol and I didn’t run a step after I got laid off. My first race when I started back was the Gateway 5K in April ’06 and I had a time of 23:06,” he nodded.
“I also did King of the Mountain and had a time of 31:01 for the four mile race. I finished 19th out of 25 in my age group, so I had a long way to come back. I also decided during that time that I wanted to run a marathon before my 40th birthday,” he continued.
He entered the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon in November 2006 where he posted a respectable time of 3:48 for a first-timer.
“I had no clue what I was getting into. I did the first half in 1:40, so you can tell that I did a lot of walking in that last six miles. All in all, it was a good day for me, but I was glad to finish and my family was there to support me,” he added.
Ryan’s marathon career has really taken off since that day eight years ago. He has now completed 36 such 26.2-mile events and he’s served as a pacer in half of them. His personal best of 2:52:38 came at Chickamauga last fall where he finished as the runner-up for the second-straight year.
He had posted a time of 2:56:30 in 2012, his first time to break three hours and probably one of his greatest racing experiences to date.
“The first time I broke three hours was my greatest race without a doubt. You never know what’s going to happen in a marathon, but I believe in negative splits and I passed the halfway point in 1:29:30 that day. I felt great the whole way.
“It was a magical day and I just got faster and faster as the race went on. I’ve had plenty of marathon experiences where I felt like death at the end, so I’m real cautious about going out too fast.
“But I’ve never been so happy as it was a great feeling to finally break three hours. I had been working toward that goal for three years, so that was a monkey off my back,” he smiled.
Ryan’s mother was always supportive of his running and came to Chickamauga many years to watch him run.
Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with lung cancer last fall and unable to be there when he posted his fastest time ever. Sadly she passed away in April, just five days before he was to run his fifth Boston Marathon.
“My mom’s illness really took a toll on my training as it was tough to get runs in when I was at the hospital every day. I wasn’t even sure I was going to Boston after that happened, but I decided to since I had already paid for the trip.
“I ran my fastest mile at the top of Heartbreak Hill. Jessica Marlier and I had been running together the whole way, but she just took off and I couldn’t stay with her. I didn’t slow down, but she just ran off and left me,” he said, knowing that he had a time of 2:55:26.
“It was pretty warm that day and I was hurting like never before at the end. I was cramping and nauseated and said that I was finished with marathoning. As you know, that idea didn’t last very long.
Marlier and Shrum have become close friends and dedicated training partners.
“I credit her with improving my running as we’re close to the same pace. We push each other in races and we still run together when we can.
“Running saved my life. The people I’ve met through running mean the world to me as they are all so supportive and positive. And I just love the feeling of pushing myself,” he added.
Ryan’s running has paid off as he’s been the Open Male Runner of the Year in the Chattanooga Track Club for four of the past five years.
“I’m going to back off a little after this year as that’s a lot of races you have to run. Right now it’s between me and Tripp McCallie for first place, but Dean Thompson won last year,” he said somewhat quietly.
Ryan is also on the CTC race team and has participated on a masters club team in recent years for cross country. This year’s race will be held in Bethlehem, PA on Dec. 13.
“I’m not as fast as most of those guys and I really didn’t feel worthy of being on that team, but I’m glad that Tim Ensign kept asking me. I was the last of our five last year, but I’m looking forward to going back,” he smiled.
Shrum will be at the starting line for Chickamauga on Nov. 8. He would like nothing more than to set another personal best on that day, but he’s also planning to pace the 3:35 group at the Space Coast Marathon in Cocoa Beach, Florida on Nov. 30.
These days, Ryan works for a company called Icemakers, Inc., which is basically an enterprise that sells and services ice machines. He’s been with them for the past six years and is currently a salesman and service manager.
Running has indeed been a good thing for Ryan Shrum and he just keeps getting faster and faster.
Who knows just how fast he’ll eventually be, but one thing is for sure. It sure beats the heck out of the way life used to be.
(This is the 36th in a series of features on runners in the Chattanooga area. If you know someone who might make an interesting story, email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)