In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports reporter Mark Monroe talked with distance runner Deb (Miller) Wagner, who has dominated the local scene for nearly 25 years. Wagner, who grew up in Point Place and now lives in Perrysburg, qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon and has won well over 100 races.
At age 30, Deb Wagner took up running as a game and to simply stay in shape. Twenty-four years later, running has brought Wagner hundreds of racing trophies, a bevy of friends and introduced her to her husband.
Wagner, who attended Central Catholic High School, began running in 1981. Just three years later she won the Blade 10K Classic, the area's premier event at the time.
The quiet and humble 55-year-old qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon when she was 39.
After winning the Blade Classic the first time with a time of 37:17, Wagner won again in 1988 (35:23). In 1990, Wagner posted her fastest time ever and won the event in 34:57.
That same year, Wagner ran in the Columbus Marathon and finished in 2:42.6 and that qualified her for the Olympic Trials. By the time she competed in the Trials she was 40, but still managed to hold her own.
Wagner mostly competes in local distance races now, but travels to South Carolina and Florida and runs about one marathon per year. Her personal record in a 10 miler is 59:08 and she once ran a half-marathon in 1:17.49.
Wagner, a longtime volunteer and member of the Toledo Roadrunners Club, was named the organization's runner of the year eight times.
Wagner still runs about 70 miles per week and does about 150 miles on a bike.
Last weekend, Wagner was the second woman to finish the Ryan Serber 8K Classic. She was only 13 seconds behind the winner, Theresa Maria, who is 24 years younger.
Wagner took first in the women's Masters Division at this summer's Ohio-Michigan run. She also was the second female finisher it the four-mile Veterans Glass City Skyway Bridge run in June. She has competed in seven races this year and placed first in all except one in her division.
"IN HIGH SCHOOL, they did not have track or cross country for women. There weren't too many sports for women. They had tennis and basketball. When I played basketball there were six people on the floor. There were two guards, two forwards and two rovers. Only the rovers could play the whole court. It was so different.
"I DIDN'T GET INTO RUNNING until I was 30 and basically I started to keep in shape. No one in my family is a runner. I was doing aerobics down at Riverside Hospital on Summit Street when I got off work. They didn't start until an hour after work ended. So I didn't want to drive home and come back. I started horsing around on an indoor track they had. After 15 times around, that would be a mile. I had a game where I'd see if I could make it a little further each time. Then I started running at Swan Creek. And that was a game where I would run and walk the 3.2-mile course. The day I finished running the whole thing, I was tickled pink. I was hooked.
"I MET MY HUSBAND [Lou Wagner] and he was really into running races. He got me into doing speed work, wearing the right kind of racing shoes and pushing me to try harder. He introduced me to what it really is to race. He showed me how to cool down after races.
"MY FIRST MEMORABLE RACE was the Toledo Blade 10K that I won in 1984. That was the largest race in the area for a number of years. I wasn't picked to win or favored. There were some other gals that were pretty good runners. I just wanted to stay with one of them. When she saw me, her mouth dropped. I tried to keep my cool. I ran nearly two minutes better than my previous best.
"IN 1990, I RAN THE COLUMBUS MARATHON and I finished in 2 hours, 42 minutes, six seconds. I had just turned 39 and it was only a day or two after my birthday. That qualified me for the Olympic Trials. I was 40 by the time I went to Houston in January of 1992 for that. I was considered an old lady. There were only three or four of us that were 40. That was a very exciting thing for me. I knew most of the girls were in their 20s and 30s. I knew I did not stand a chance. I just went because it was such a thrill. They picked us up and we had a private dinner. They treated us so nice. They paid for everything. The only thing I had to buy was a cup of coffee.
"ONE THING THAT WAS PRETTY NEAT was a run down in Columbus Grove. It's a four miler. It's called the Beer Bottle Open. I won the race 12 or 13 times. They give out authentic beer mugs and they're so impressive to look at now. They're real fancy beer steins. They'd give you the first beer for free. But I don't drink beer. I would have guys fight over my mug. One year they had shirts with my name on the sleeve.
"MY HUSBAND can't run now and he got into biking. We do a fair amount of biking. We put in about 6,000 miles of biking in a few months. We'll do 40 miles five days a week. We've done a couple 100-milers.
"I'VE KEPT RUNNING LOGS since 1983. I write down where I ran, how far, my time and I always have a code for the shoes I wear. I don't like to use a pair of shoes too long. I write down if I did speed work or if I had a really bad day. I'll look back and see why I wasn't feeling good or if I twisted an ankle. If I ran well in a race, I'll see what I did in the weeks before it.
"I HELPED START a distance running school in 2001. It's for anyone 12 years and older. We have different speakers come in. We have sports doctors, nutritionists and coaches. Of course we always have runs. It's fun being with the kids. We've had some who have gone on and done outstanding things.
"IT'S KIND OF COMICAL. I had one gal say to me, 'You know you are my mother's age.' And I just had to laugh. That is true. I attribute it to the fact that I started running later.
"MY PARENTS [Van and Shirley Sharrit] have always been so supportive and big fans. They're always there at the finish line. I knew they would be there and I always wanted to make them proud.
"I JUST WANT to be able to continue running for a good number of years. If I can race well, that's great. I just want to be out doing things. I just want to stay involved in running and biking. I always say a little prayer to be healthy and be able to do this."
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