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Dawna Holowell started running four years ago to help get over a break-up and now she can’t imagine life without running

Dawna Holowell can’t imagine her life without running after starting four years ago to get over a break-up.  

The 44-year-old Pennsylvania native became heavily involved with Gulf Coast Runners in Flordia, becoming the organization’s volunteer coordinator – making sure each of GCR’s 24 races are well-stocked with road marshals, water distributors, signholders, registration helpers and many other race necessities.

Dawna ran her first-ever marathon in October at the Chicago Marathon –a pretty impressive accomplishment for someone who just ran her first 5K in February 2015.

“I have a friend down here that I’ve known since first grade in Pennsylvania who ran in high school,” Holowell said about Becca Gatian, the person who introduced her to Gulf Coast Runners. “She signed me up for a 5K and I kind of looked at her and laughed. I used to always make fun of her for running so much. I couldn’t even run a mile.”

Soon, Holowell’s competitive spirit took over and she fell in love with running. An insurance underwriter for Brown and Brown Insurance, Holowell says even her co-workers joke about her passion for running.

“I work from home when I’m not traveling for my job and if I’m having a rough day or not finding a solution to a problem, they’ll ask me if I’ve gone for my run yet,” Holowell said. “It definitely helps you clear your mind where you can think out issues and come to that solution.”

Holowell’s organizational skills and problem-solving ability are a big help in her job as volunteer coordinator, which makes life a little easier for race director Jake Hester.

“I always know the volunteers are going to have the information that they need, that they’re going to be where they’re supposed to be and know what they’re supposed to do,” Hester said. “It really puts my mind at ease when it comes to volunteers. I don’t have to worry one bit about that part of the race.”

Holowell always finds time to run amidst her busy schedule, competing at a half-marathon in Jacksonville, Florida two months after the Chicago Marathon.

A novice runner less than four years ago, she’s still amazed at how far she’s come so far.  

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d run a marathon. It was such an amazing experience,” she says.  

Holowell said she picked the Chicago Marathon because as a college student in Indiana, she made the trip to Chicago once a month, which gave her familiarity to her surroundings. But nothing could quite prepare her for the feelings she had at the starting line.

“It’s overwhelming. I’ve never been around anything like that,” she said. “There’s something like 45,000 runners at the starting line and then you’ve got tons of spectators along the route. But the vibes you get from those spectators really keep you going. You’ve got little kids cheering you on, people giving you food. When you’re feeling like you can’t make it, you’ve got people there to lift you up. I had friends at the race and there was no way I wasn’t finishing it.”

As she approached the end of the race, Holowell saw that many of the runners began walking. She was having none of that, though.

“We got to Michigan Avenue, toward the end of the race and there’s a marker that said 800 meters,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s two laps around the track, I’ve got this’. At the end of the race, there’s a bit of an incline, but I knew I had to finish strong. As soon as I saw the finish line, I cried. It’s just this amazing, emotional feeling. I had pushed my body to its limit but I made it.”

Holowell said it took her body about a week to recover from the race, noting that just going up steps had to be done at a slow rate. But she was back in action a week later, going for a recovery run and beginning preparation for that half-marathon in Jacksonville.

Holowell says she’s about to begin training for her next marathon, although she’s not yet sure where that one will be.

(06/16/2019) ⚡AMP
Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is the pinnacle of achievement for elite athletes and everyday runners alike. On race day, runners from all 50 states andmore than 100 countries will set out to accomplish a personal dream by reaching the finish line in Grant Park. The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is known for its flat and fast...


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