Marathon Honeymoon

A dream trip ends with a race to the finish line

By Jeannine Hutson

Jim and Amy Kearns had their dream wedding two years and decided to save up for their dream wedding trip. Their plans were delayed slightly by a move down to North Carolina for his new job at the East Carolina Heart Institute at East Carolina University.

They finally made it to Hawaii in September and it was worth the wait, they said. The islands lived up to the reputation in travel articles and their friends’ raves.

While touring the islands, Amy said they did what many honeymooners do – they ran a marathon. “What other people don’t do this?” she said laughing.

Jim Kearns is a physician assistant in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU. His undergraduate degree from Rutgers University is in English and comparative literature. He went back to school to become a physician assistant and during his last rotations at St. Francis University in Loretto, Penn., he fell in love with cardiology and cardiac surgery. He joined the ECU program two years ago.

Amy Kearns is a registered dietitian with Fresenius Medical Care-Greenville working with dialysis patients.

They were married Oct. 25, 2008, at the historic Stony Hill Inn in New Jersey. “We went all out for our wedding, so we delayed our honeymoon,” she said.

“We decided on Hawaii because it was exotic. We went to three islands – Kauai, which is called the greenest island and least developed with chickens running around,” Jim said. “We also went to the Oahu where Waikiki Beach is and it’s very commercialized. It was nice, but sitting by the pool it’s like being in Miami or Las Vegas. It had night life, nice restaurants and shops.”

This island is also where Jim lived out his “Man vs. Food” dream, trying to eat four pounds of pancakes with one pound of topping with no time limit. “I failed miserably,” he said.

And their final island was Maui, where the 40th annual Maui Marathon was held Sept. 19. “It was our favorite. You have the mountains on one side and the beach on the other. You have the black sand beach, the white sand beach, the red sand beach. It’s unbelievably beautiful,” Jim said.

“Maui wasn’t supposed to be our last destination, but we had just finished booking our trip when Amy, who is an avid runner, said, I wonder if there’s a marathon in Maui,” Jim said.

Amy laughed and said, “Because that’s what honeymooners do, right?”

At first Jim told Amy not to search for races online. “I said, not this time because you always want to incorporate running into our vacations,” he said.

Amy couldn’t resist looking, and the Maui Marathon was set for their time in Hawaii. The travel agent was able to rework their reservations so they could be in Maui on the marathon date.

As Amy was signing up to run the marathon, she asked Jim if he wanted to run, knowing it’s been on his “bucket list” for a while.

Jim said, “We were watching ‘The Biggest Loser’ while we were planning the trip, and they had the contestants run a marathon. There was a particular contestant and I said, ‘There’s no way he’s going to finish. If he finishes, then I’ll run.’ And sure enough, he finished.

“And then she said, ‘If you run the marathon, then we can start a family.’ I said, OK, sign me up,” he said.

It’s important to note, when Jim decided to sign up, it was four weeks before their trip and he hadn’t been training seriously for running a marathon. The farthest Jim ran during his weeks of training leading up to their trip was 13 miles; a marathon is 26.2 miles.

Amy is an avid runner; this was her 13th marathon. Jim said, “She’s always running.”

Amy, 34, finished 17th overall and was the third female across the finish line with a time of 3 hours, 18 minutes. She won a $150 prize, which covered her entry fee. Jim, then 39, finished 548th with a time of 5 hours, 45 minutes. He admitted that he stopped once to walk and again to aid a man who was having a heat stroke.

Jim laughed about this time compared to his wife’s. “Amy had finished and probably could have gone back to the hotel to take a shower and come back,” he said. She jumped in, “No, no, I went and got the camera.”

Jim said, “When I came around the corner, she was cheering me on, saying ‘You’re almost there.’ And I just wanted to know how much farther? Where’s the finish line?”

Amy ran the last few yards with him as he crossed the finish line.

“It is nice because people are cheering for you, but at that point, you feel like your legs are falling off. And the next day at the hotel, you could tell who had run the marathon, because they all have that marathon walk,” he said.

Jim admitted that the next day, he told Amy that he might want to run another marathon.

Amy said, “Once you run a marathon, you want to try to beat your time.”

Dr. Blaise Williams, associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy in the College of Allied Health Sciences, said he was surprised and impressed that Jim was able to finish the race with the limited time he was able to train.

“People train for six months at time or more for their first marathon. The training schedules for people who are running their first marathons are usually at least 16 weeks. It’s getting your body ready to endure that distance,” said Williams, whose clinical and research interest includes the biomechanics of the legs, feet and ankles during running.

“The other part of a marathon is that you’re dealing with the elements – the heat, the cold, the rain,” he said. “I would not recommend this for the average person to pick up and run a marathon in a month’s time. Chances are you’ll end up getting hurt.”

As for future marathons for the Kearnses? “Definitely,” said Amy.

Jim wasn’t as sure. “We’ll see.”

Rumor has it there’s a marathon in Alaska in 18 months calling their names. Vacation included.

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