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Monday, January 18, 2021

For the long haul

Fort Worth runner Elizabeth Northern trains her body and mind over hundreds of hours and thousands of miles.

Elizabeth Northern stands 5 feet 1 ½ inches tall and weights around 100 pounds. Probably half of her weight is heart. You gotta have heart to do what she does – long-distance running.

“Living with a person like Liz is like living with a walking, or running, inspiration. I get to witness her daily sacrifices to be the best she can be, and it’s amazing,” said husband Will Northern, owner of Northern Realty Group.

In real life, she works in data analysis at Buxton Co., but her second job – often in the dark ¬– is running. She finished 68th in the women’s division at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Los Angeles earlier this year, and in this year’s Cowtown she set the seventh fastest time in the nation for the 50k ultra marathon – just over 31 miles in 3 hours, 21 minutes and 30 seconds.

If you think running is not a job, consider that her running log shows she ran 3,405.5 miles in 2015 over roughly 411 hours and 30 minutes. That’s like running from Fort Worth to San Francisco – and back. Since 2010 she’s run at least 14,541 miles.

And she does it smiling. It’s a deliberate thing. “It’s so cheesy, but I think there is a physiological thing connected with it,” she said. “But when I’m feeling bad, I smile.” She’s also a smiley person when she not running, like when she’s sitting at an outside table at AVOCA Coffee Roasters to talk about life its own self.

“She isn’t just a great runner, she’s also a phenomenal human being,” said college running partner Emily Daum, who is now head cross country coach at Trinity University in San Antonio, where both ran collegiately. Northern was Daum’s maid of honor and Daum was her matron of honor when they married, and Liz and Will are the godparents to Daum’s daughter, Emma.

“She has this contagious personality that no matter what mood you’re in, she can always cheer you up. That’s part of the reason why I loved training with her so much,” Daum said. “She is a great example of someone who has mastered the art of balancing life.”

Northern graduated from Nolan Catholic High School and then studied math and religion at Trinity, where she was a walk-on for the track team. She went on to earn a master’s degree in education at Penn State University. She worked at Tarrant County College in the research department, which set her up for the job at Buxton.

“I enjoy Buxton,” she said. “It’s a great work environment. I’m challenged all the time. They’ve been very receptive to my running, and the hours are a little bit more convenient to me than TCC.”

Her first race came at 4 years old when she and her mother ran in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Finishers got carnations. “To a 4-year-old, getting that carnation was a really cool thing,” she said. Four is also the age when she began 15 years of ballet training at Fort Worth’s Dance Concept.

“I attribute so, so much of my running awareness and stamina to my background in ballet, tap, jazz and modern,” she said, including extremely strong feet and ankles and a bouncy running style, “a result from learning how to not land like an elephant, which, simply, is not graceful.”

As a self-described introvert, running is her alone time to recharge and be contemplative about herself.

She’s been running on the Saucony Hurricane team since 2014, and she is a new Tailwind Trailblazer team member. Saucony makes running shoes and apparel and Tailwind makes a hydration drink.

“Fortunately, Liz gets a lot of her mileage in early in the mornings, around 5 to 6, when training for a race, leaving our afternoons flexible,” husband Will said. “Sometimes we go on bike and jog dates in the afternoon, where I ride my bike alongside her.”

Both are involved in various civic groups such as Steer Fort Worth, Vision Fort Worth, the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth, the Junior League of Fort Worth, Cook Children’s and Leadership Fort Worth.

“Liz is an incredible athlete, very intelligent and a caring person. Liz is an example of a strong, independent woman who is a champion for gender equality. She’s a great role model. I love her and am blessed to call her my wife,” he said.

Heidi Swartz, executive director of The Cowtown, noted that Northern is the first female runner to win all of The Cowtown distances. “Elizabeth is a wonderful role model for all of the students in The Cowtown C.A.L.F. program, illustrating to these children just what can happen with commitment, hard work and an amazing attitude,” Swartz said.

The rest of 2016 is “kind of open,” Northern said. She’d love to get in a fast 5K and 10K on the track while she still has some speed left from marathon training. There’s talk of a USA 50K team in November in Qatar. “That would be awesome to represent the U.S. in a race,” she said. Beyond that, she thinks she has two or three more shots at the Olympic Trials, and she’d like to break the Cowtown 10K record.

“Liz has always been the type of individual whom, once they set a goal, they won’t stop until they achieve it,” Daum said.

At 28, there is still plenty of time. Don’t bet against her.

Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

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