Sue Barlow Running Strong Amid Busy Life

She Hopes To Do Boston Again When Time Allows

Thursday, August 28, 2014 - by John Hunt

Sue Barlow has endured more catastrophic events in her life than any three people should ever have to face, but she’s tougher than a pine knot and keeps moving forward with love in her heart and a smile on her face.

Sue and Larry – her husband of 10 years – moved to Chattanooga in June 2005, right after they had lost literally everything in an apartment fire. 

“I hated my job and was looking for something different.  We lost everything in the fire, including my wedding dress and two cats, and that’s when we decided to move to Chattanooga.  It’s really hard when you have to replace everything, but the two cats were the hardest part,” Barlow said early Thursday afternoon while relaxing in the lobby of the downtown YMCA.

She immediately enrolled in physical therapy school and later graduated in 2009.  She now teaches at UTC and works part-time at Siskin.

Barlow grew up in New Jersey, just outside Philadelphia.  She earned her undergraduate degree in Biology from Villanova, where she had gone on a full athletic scholarship to play field hockey and softball.  She earned All-America honors in 1986 as a field hockey goalie.

Since that time, she went to graduate school at the University of Kentucky, where she earned her PHD in Bio-Chemistry.  It might be appropriate to refer to her as "Dr.

Barlow."

She had started playing soccer, but around the turn of the century, she decided to try running.

She began by reading a Hal Higdon book, which suggested going for a one-mile run as fast as possible.

“I got tired of getting hurt playing soccer and that’s when I started running,” the 49-year-old bundle of energy explained.

“A friend that I worked with at Vanderbilt had just run a marathon, so that got me interested.  That first mile took right at 10 minutes and I thought I would die.  I later got involved in a running group at Vandy and we’d do speed work every day at noon.  I can’t run fast, but I can hold a pretty good pace for a long time,” she laughed.

Sue got involved in the Chattanooga Track Club shortly after she and Larry moved to Chattanooga.  She runs at 5 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday and she joins the group run from the Y on Saturday mornings. And she takes great pride in her trail running, which she does every Sunday at Chickamauga Park.

She says that she doesn’t run fast, but just try to stay with her on a training run.  Her pace in training isn’t much different from her pace on race day.

Not too many months ago, there was a question posed on the CTC’s e-news about Have you ever done speedwork?  Someone posted a very appropriate answer, saying “Have you ever run with Sue Barlow?”

She’s not very big physically, but there’s a tiger in her tank and she shifts into another mode when a run begins.

While teaching and working occupy quite a bit of her time, she and Larry just adopted Gia, her six-year-old niece whose parents died in a double suicide.  That in itself has been quite an undertaking.

“It’s a hard job and very challenging, but we do the best that we can,” Sue explained.

“I run about 25 miles a week and that’s about all I have time for.  I like to do speedwork when it’s warm, but my longer runs are slow and easy,” she said.

Sue has run nine marathons with a personal best of 3:42 at Nashville in 2003.  Her first one netted a time of 3:46 at Memphis in 2000.

“There were five of us at Vanderbilt who trained together for that race.  I couldn’t have asked for a better first marathon as it was a great experience.  We really didn’t know what we were doing and we created our own training plan with only one 20-mile run,” she nodded.

And as you might imagine, she was the first one in that group to finish.

She also had the opportunity to run Boston in 2013 and had just finished in 3:49 when the bombs exploded near the finish line.  What a chaotic experience that turned out to be.

“I was about two blocks away and it sounded like a cannon going off.  I turned around and saw this huge cloud of smoke, but we had no idea what was going on.  Everyone started running to escape the area as it turned into a panic situation, but that pretty much shut down the town.  Luckily, we were able to take a cab to where our car was parked,” she remembered.

“I’d love to go back and probably will when Gia is a little older, but that was my favorite marathon of all time,” she added with pride.

Sue has never been one to back off from a tough challenge and that’s what she got when she went with several others from Chattanooga to the Savage Gulf Marathon, which took place near Alcoa on St. Patrick’s Day 2012.

“My time of 8:05 was my slowest marathon, but it was mostly non-runnable on an incredibly tough trail.  It was awful.  I ran it with Bill Brock and he must of picked me up at least a dozen times, but I’ve never in my life been so happy to see a finish line,” she explained.

Sue runs quite a few of the track club races and she’s also gotten involved in CTC activities. 

“I joined the club in 2005 and I was volunteering at races when I wasn’t running them.  I made a new year’s resolution to get more involved and someone told me to attend a board meeting.  That was all it took as I was appointed to the board and was VP of Communications.

“My time has been limited, so I’ve given some of the responsibility to Sujeel Taj, but I still do the E-News each week.  Chattanooga has an incredible group of runners and the track club does some amazing things.

“Running has been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself other than marry Larry, but I’m miserable when I can’t run.  It’s a nice social activity and it keeps me healthy,” she added.

Sue will turn 50 on March 22, so one of her urgent goals involves the Tennessee State Parks Running Tour.

“I’m hoping that I can win the Female Masters title in that tour, but that means I’d have to do at least 10 races.  It’s just a matter of being able to travel to each event, but there are some really neat races in that group.  I’ve been running them since 2000,” she nodded.

Life is really busy for Sue and Larry these days, but she’s not complaining.  It’s just that running has to take a back seat from time to time.

But she doesn’t have any plans to slow down any time soon as she vows to someday break 3:30 for the marathon. 

Running has been a lifesaver for her in more ways than one.  She just hopes that she can continue for a long time to come.

(This is the 27th in a series of running features in Chattanooga.  If you know of someone who would make an interesting story, email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@comcast.net)


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