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Defending champ McGown ready to try River Run repeat times two

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, May 31, 2012, at 4:15 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, May 30, 2013, at 6:01 p.m.

Kansas Health Foundation River Run

When: 7:30 a.m. Saturday

Where: 400 W. Waterman

Races: 10 kilometers, 7:30 a.m.; 2-mile wheelchair, 9:20; 2 miles, 9:30.

There’s this thing that happens to an athlete when he or she talks about their career coming to a close.

The words come out a little lighter. Memories take on more of a wistful shine, the rough edges smoothed out by time and, in this case, distance.

And no one is immune.

“I consider myself retired now,” said Amber McGown, last year’s River Run champion in both the 10-kilometer and 2-mile races. “Now it’s got to be what fits into my life schedule instead of making my schedule around the running.”

McGown, an economist for Invista, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, was a small-town star in Melfort, Saskatchewan, before becoming an Ivy League standout at Cornell and then running for the University of Oregon in her final year of eligibility as she completed a Masters in International Trade/Political Science/Environmental studies. She ran professionally for New Balance after her college career.

She’ll have the opportunity to defend her titles in Saturday’s Kansas Health Foundation River Run, and actually considered coming out of retirement to return to running professionally last summer.

Lack of a consistent training partner, coach and severe allergies — she needs shots to combat them — didn’t make the move logical. Not to mention that as a Canadian citizen — McGown moved to Wichita to be with her boyfriend, WSU throws coach John Hetzendorf — she needs to stay employed full-time as an economist in order to stay in the United States.

“You’ve got to be pretty disciplined in order to be your own coach, and to run by yourself is even more difficult,” McGown said. “With having to work full time, I just didn’t see how I could pull it off.”

McGown, despite her professed retirement, still keeps a consistent training schedule. She breaks off four- to six-mile runs during the afternoon and a 10-mile run on the weekend.

“I still make sure to work in days off for myself,” McGown said. “If I don’t get those, I can feel my focus start to slip in my day-to-day life. Also, I’m involved with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, so on days where I’ve got something to do with that, I don’t run.

“Even though I’m not working out at the same level, it’s still exciting for me to run relatively fast times … for a retired athlete.”

A retired athlete that will try to win back-to-back titles at one of the area’s most competitive races, something she tried to temper talk of.

Tom O’Connell is the defending men’s champion in the 10K.

“I would prefer to have a great race than to win easily … it’s more fun to work for it,” said McGown, who won last year’s 10K by 35 seconds and the 2-mile by more than a minute. “I enjoy the competition. There is a great running community here … I’m amazed by the amount of people that come out to the races. That makes it more exciting.”

Reach Tony Adame at tadame@wichitaeagle.com or 316-268-6284.

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