By Judy Reed
Most runners begin their career in the sport while still in school. But not Hank Risley, of Nelson Township. The 44-year-old marathon runner played no sports in high school, ran only a little in college, and didn’t pick up the love for running until he was 38. Earlier this month, he placed second at the 7th annual marathon in Sedona, Arizona, a challenging course for any runner at 4,500 feet, let alone one over age 40.
“It was a tough course because of the elevation,” said Risley, a Senior Vice President of Retail Lending at Independent Bank. “Michigan air is thicker. But it was beautiful to look at the red rocks and other scenery.” Risley finished the course in 2:54:40, which he said is the second slowest race he’s ever ran.
Risley said it was the fall of 2005 when his sister-in-law challenged him at Thanksgiving to run a marathon. He didn’t think she was serious until she showed up at Christmas with a training schedule. And the rest, as they say, is history. He began running with the North Kent running club, where he found the support of other runners, and ran his first marathon in May, 2006 at the age of 38. At the age of 40, he started to run in the masters division, for runners over age 40.
In December 2008, at 40, he was named Michigan Runner of the year by the magazine of the same name. He had finished first among masters runners in four of the six Michigan Runner Series races he ran, and placed second in the other two. He also finished first or second in several other races he ran that year—all by July. He couldn’t run the second half of the year because of a calf injury.
“I had gotten greedy, running in as many races as I could. But my body started breaking down,” he explained.
Two weeks after receiving the award, he was running near Lake Mitchell in Cadillac, when he was hit from behind by a car, and flew up on to the hood, causing a herniated disk and a torn sacroiliac joint. “I got up and walked away, I wasn’t transported by ambulance or anything,” said Risley. “I think I was in denial that it had happened.”
But Risley said that event changed his life. “When I got hit, I thought I was going to die,” he explained.
Now he doesn’t run nearly as many races each year. “You can probably count them on one hand,” he said. He does some marathons, and some pacing runs. Last year he paced someone in the Boston Marathon. And he’s also a bit more cautious about where he runs. “I now have a treadmill set up in my basement,” he said.
While training, he runs 60-80 miles a week. But after a race, he takes some time off—and only runs half of that.
So what keeps him going during those long marathons? It’s his favorite fan—his 10-year-old daughter, Madison Risley, a 5th grader at Cedar View Elementary. “When your daughter and your mom are there every two miles saying, ‘Go Dad go!’ they get you going,” he said with a chuckle.
Risley had two words of advice for anyone thinking of starting to run. “Consistency and commitment. If you stick with it, your body will adapt and you’ll be able to sustain a lot longer,” he explained. “The ability to take in food and liquid is also important to keep your energy level up and body hydrated,” he added.
To see a video of when Risley was selected Michigan Runner of the Year, go to http://michiganrunner.tv/2008risley/.