Penn State student runs distance, participates in Philadelphia Half Marathon
It was the perfect morning to run.
Brisk air blew through banners that read, "The Philadelphia Marathon," and Lisa Lotito
shuffled through the crowd of 18,000 runners, working her way to her starting position.
The announcer's voice rose above the morning's dense chatter. The runners fed off each
other's excitement, and the energy in the air was palpable.
"It kind of hits your whole body that it's a race," Lotito said, recalling the moments
before she began running her second half marathon.
It was November 22, 2009, not even a year after she first started running long distance.
But that morning, she wasn't in Center City, Philadelphia to compete against the other
"This was a competition for me against my time," she said.
December 2008 was when Lotito first put on her sneakers with the goal of running the
Long Island Marathon in May — all 26.2 miles of it.
Lotito had a big task ahead of her if she was going to be ready for the race. She'd never
run more than six miles before in her life. But the time was right for her to a take on a
In her freshman year of high school, Lotito was diagnosed with celiac disease, which
prevents her from absorbing the nutrients from her food effectively. Specifically, she
cannot digest gluten, a special protein found in rye, barley and wheat. Given her eating
habits, this was a problem.
"I'm Italian. I was eating" — and here she emphasized the words — "everything wheat."
Her family helped adjust her to a new diet, but in 11th grade, Lotito still stood at 5 feet, 7
inches and weighed only 106 pounds.
Not only that, but that same year, Lotito came down with shin splints, or pain and
tenderness in the lower leg, a common injury among runners.
Lotito would spend two years adjusting to a gluten-free diet and two and a half years
rehabilitating her shins for an hour every day, five days a week.
When her first year at Penn State University arrived, Lotito wasn't sure how she could fit
in at such a big state school. She had gained twenty pounds since her junior year, which
meant she was finally building muscle mass. She joined the volleyball club, but the
dynamic there wasn't working for her. She needed something else.
At about that time, a coworker gave her a copy of the book, The Non-Runner's
Marathon Trainer. She felt a positive energy radiating from it, and when she started reading, she
"I guess you could say it was the perfect time for me to start running," Lotito said.
Her high school history teacher and track coach, Judy Krouse, had run 10 marathons and
inspired her to make the decision. She'd also met six other people who'd run
marathons, including her academic adviser, professor and boss, in the preceding months.
Before long, Lotito was starting slowly but surely, like them, to push her body to the
limit. With her coach to mentor her — Krouse organized her training schedule and
talked to her nearly every day over the phone — Lotito's goal seemed within reach.
In the beginning, she was out of shape for running and ran only short distances,
alternating between jogging for ten minutes and walking for five.
She would trump those early efforts just a few months later by completing a 20-mile run
— entirely void of walking — in preparation for the big day.
It was on these runs that Lotito began to truly discover Penn State.
"Sometimes it was nice to go out really early and have that calm that you don't feel on
College Ave. at other times," she said.
She learned to listen to the environment around her, and she made the campus her own.
Lotito eventually accomplished all her training, but she came down with a stomach
problem in the week preceding the Long Island Marathon. She could've done the full
marathon, but because she wanted to run a strong race, she decided to do the half
After finishing at Long Island, Lotito aimed to accomplish her original goal this fall, but
because of time constraints, she again had to compromise.
At Philadelphia, Lotito felt "impatient" with herself. She'd run the half before and knew
she could do it again. What she really wanted was to run a full marathon.
But once she got on the starting line, the countdown beginning, all of that melted away.
She was glad to be there.
The crowd of runners began to move at a slow gait. The sheer volume of bodies kept
them from moving quickly, and Lotito finished the first mile in 11 minutes, 30 seconds,
which was "practically walking" for her.
By the end, though, she had run a 7 1/2-minute mile, and she finished the entire
race in 1 hour, 58 minutes and 4
seconds, accomplishing her goal of under two hours.
"It was good for me and I was happy with it becau\se, at this time last year, I couldn't run
three miles without being out of breath," she said.
And yet, Lotito has realized that, for her, running isn't really about the time or the
distance anymore. As she learned on her runs around Penn State's campus, it's about
truly inhabiting each run.
"That's what the running is teaching me to do — to really be there at that point and time
in my life," Lotito said.