Teacher to run 12 marathons for charity

Pictured is Robin Hornberger, a teacher at West Clermont High School, who plans to run 12 marathons in 2018 to raise money for a scholarship fund.

By Brett Milam,
Editor – 

Robin Hornberger, a teacher at West Clermont High school, plans to run…a lot in 2018.
314.4 miles to be exact. Which is 12 marathons, 26.2 miles a piece.
For a reference point, that’s tantamount to running from Cincinnati to Chicago, with more than 20 miles leftover. And that’s just the official running Hornberger plans to do. In a typical year, she runs 1,000 to 1,200 miles. In her lifetime, she’s accrued 9,000 miles, she estimated.
Hornberger, 41, has joined with the West Clermont Education Foundation to create the Run for the Future Scholarship Fund, a scholarship fund for West Clermont High School graduates.
Her goal? To raise $500,000 over the next four years, so a $20,000 scholarship ($5,000/year for four years), could be given to one student of each graduating class in perpetuity, Hornberger said.
“Even if we fall short of this goal, all money raised will go to scholarships for WCHS graduates,” she said. “Our first scholarship will be awarded in 2021, which is when this year’s freshmen graduate. This gives us time to accumulate funds.
West Clermont Local Schools is a district Hornberger is intimately familiar with: She’s taught at Glen Este High School for nine years, Amelia Middle School for three years, Amelia High School for two years and now teaches American History and AP Government at the high school. Aside from that, she also is a coach for West Clermont Middle School’s cross country team.
When she decided to take up running eight years ago, she started out hiking every day for a year, mainly at the Cincinnati Nature Center, she said, as a way to “lose weight and get in shape.”
“One day out of the blue I decided to try running,” Hornberger said. “I only ran two minutes that day and felt like death. Gradually I was able to run longer.”
There wasn’t any intention of becoming a marathon runner, she said, even though she had done the Flying Pig relay with friends the spring after she started running —— which only required six miles —— it was the third leg of the relay through Mariemont that gave her the itch to try a full marathon.
“The fan support was fantastic,” she said. “My first three marathons I followed published marathon training plans. A lot of marathons publish their own training plans, but you can find generic twenty-week plans online.”
Now, however, she knows what works best for her mentally and physically, she said, so she creates her own plans.
“Instead of measuring my runs by distance, I prefer to run for time,” Hornberger said. “I know a marathon typically takes me around five hours, so I gradually increase my runs so I do a couple of runs close to five hours about three weeks before my marathon. Most plans have the longest run at 22 miles, but I know I will struggle if I don’t run closer to 26.”
Those plans, she said, include speed work, hill training, tempo runs, and other workouts.
“I find that Cincinnati is hilly enough that as long as I am not avoiding hills, I run enough hills to get the cardiovascular benefit without specifically planning hill runs,” she said.
Because of a bad hip from a torn labrum, Hornberger said she struggles with speed work.
“I now try to do three miles of speed work once a week on a treadmill,” she said. “I also make a point to have one run where I do not worry about speed, improvement, strength or anythings else and just enjoy running.”
When running is always hard, it can stop being fun, she said. Different locations, like the Nature Center, Marimont, Newtown, Devou Park, Montgomery, Mt. Lookout, and a bridge run through downtown and Northern Kentucky, helps. Steady progress and a “runner’s high” do exist, she said.
The motivation for the marathons comes from this sort of training: Long runs give her time to process events going on in her life, she said. Or sometimes she thinks of nothing at all, she said.
“Sometimes I lesson plan for either school or cross country practice when I am running. If I am struggling with a class, I will try to break down the problem and brainstorm solutions,” she said. “When I run at the Nature Center, I try to take in the sights, scents and sounds – as well as making sure I don’t trip or twist an ankle. When I run in a new place, it’s just like driving in a new location where you enjoy exploring. Sometimes I run up and down every side street to see what’s there.”
Music helps, too, like pop or folk.
“It’s a good mix of old and new; fast and slow music. “Eye of the Tiger” is always a good pick me up and seems to play right when I need a burst of energy. I have quite a few songs by Avicii, Dawes, and Simon & Garfunkel.
Hornberger also addressed some myths and misconceptions about marathon running. For starters, all marathons are 26.2 miles; they do not vary in distance.
“I wish people didn’t automatically think they cannot be a runner because their first attempt at running did not go well. My first run was pitiful,” she said. “It’s amazing how quickly your fitness can improve if you stick with it.”
Running can also be enjoyable and a confidence booster —— it doesn’t have to hard and difficult —— and being outdoors in nature is another plus, she said.
“I like that running has allowed me to know my city a lot better. I run all over the Greater Cincinnati Area and in Dayton. I love living in Cincinnati a lot more than before I became a runner,” Hornberger said.
And the running community is “fantastic,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid of being too slow to participate in a race,” she said. “Runners are always excited to see new people trying a race and will be supportive of your efforts. You will be surprised by how many strangers will cheer for and encourage you. I like how inclusive running is.”
Case in point: Hornberger ran the New York City Marathon, which featured the world’s top elite runners, but she was able to participate, she said, which made her feel like she was in the Olympics.
Ultimately, running has to be something a runner does for themselves, she said.
“Do not feel like you have to win races, be faster than your co-worker, or get faster every run,” she said. “Find a distance that you enjoy and a place where you love to run.”
Thinking of trying out running or a marathon? To get started, Hornberger suggests visiting a running store, like Tri-State Running, and have them suggest the best running shoe.
“A lot of new runners get shin splints, so an insert is helpful,” she said. “I use Powersteps. I suggest wearing an actual running shirt, not cotton shirts, especially in Cincinnati’s hot summers.”
But, like with the torn labrum, marathons still take their toll, she said.
“I do find that the general soreness that I get after running a marathon is not as extreme and long-lasting as my first few marathons,” Hornberger said. “Running a marathon definitely hurts pretty much everything from my lower back to my toes. I think this is inevitable when performing such a repetitive motion for 26.2 miles. I make myself take a week off from running after a marathon and then listen to my body as I gradually increase my mileage again.”
Crossing the finish line isn’t as euphoric for her, as one might think; instead, she’s just happy to be finished because of the exhaustion and pain in her body. The joy comes more from the process itself rather.
“I enjoy experiencing new places when I run marathons. I enjoy the support from the volunteers and crowd,” she said. “Each marathon is its own journey that I enjoy when training, while ‘racing,’ and while looking back at past races.”
Still, there are chronic issues she said she’s dealing with. Asthma, for one, which meant she had to figure out how often to treat her asthma during long runs.
“My biggest problem is I have bad hips, including a torn labrum in my right hip,” she said. “I do strength exercises that I learned at physical therapy three times to a week to keep my hip as stable and healthy as possible.”
The goal is to train smart and limit her speed work, she said, but it can be frustrating, as she said her marathon times haven’t improved. This is due more to the hip than her mental toughness to push herself, she said.
“I am grateful, however, to still be running and try to accept what my body allows me to do,” Hornberger said.
These marathons take about five hours for her to run, she said.
“I always feel a little disappointed if I’m over five hours, but still feel proud to have finished,” she said. “No matter how long it takes, I still get the same health benefits, the same joy of experiencing new places, and the same sense of learning something new about myself.”
Detroit’s marathon was her fastest time at 4:31:09, but it caused her to aggravate her hip.
The Pig remains her favorite marathon to run, however, as she said no marathon has better fans or volunteers.
“The Pig has a quirky theme and they incorporate it into every little detail,” she said. “The race is always well organized and managed. I am incredibly proud that our city throws such an amazing event.”
In fact, the Run for the Future Scholarship Fund is an official charity of the 2018 Flying Pig Marathon, she said.
“If anyone wants to run any Flying Pig Race and raise funds for the scholarship, they should check out our website for directions (bit.ly/WCscholarship). “There are many race distances participants can run or walk, so anyone can participate.”
Tri-State Running is also offering a discount for their marathon, half marathon, or “Couch to 5K” training programs to anyone who mentions they are running for the scholarship fund, she said.
The Marine Corps Marathon, in Arlington, Virginia and Washington D.C., and the Louisiana Marathon, are also among her favorites. As for her dream marathon? The Big Sur Marathon in California, which runs on Highway 1 along the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
In all these prior runs, though, this new venture in 2018 of 12 marathons is the first time she said she’s used running to raise money for charity. The idea for 12 marathons in 12 months came before the cause, she said.
“I knew that if I did use running for fundraising, I wanted the money to stay in my community,” she said. “Last winter, I watched our amazing West Clermont staff and students raise money to host a Thanksgiving dinner and provide Christmas presents for families in need. I love this spirit of giving, but wanted to find a way to help end generational poverty to hopefully reduce the need for this type of assistance in the years to come.”
One way to get out of the cycle of generational poverty is to obtain a college education or technical certification without going into debt, Hornberger said.
“I am hoping as a community, we can give one student each year this opportunity,” she said. “I know that our kids are strong, determined and resilient and will be successful college students if given the chance.”
As a teacher, Hornberger said she’s had students with good grades and a great attitude, despite being homeless or having families members who struggle with drug addiction or with one or both parents in jail.
“I find them very inspirational, because I think I would crumble under those conditions but they push through and oftentimes show no signs that their lives are in such chaos,” Hornberger said.
Hornberger’s original idea was to have a company sponsor each of the 12 races, but that hasn’t happened. Even so, she said her running has brought in $4,500.
“My biggest donor so far is my former employer Perfection Gymnastics in West Chester,” she said. “Though they are not part of the West Clermont community, they are very generous and have a goal to use their business’s success to give back to the community.”
Other major donors, she said, include Capturing Life Photography, Stuart Conrad Roofing, C & B Signs and the Amelia LaRosa’s.
“There have been a lot of individual donations from friends and people I don’t know. Those small donations add up and are very important in reaching my goal,” she said.
All monies and donations go to the fund, she said. She’s paying for her own race fees and travel expenses.
“I am a pretty simple person who doesn’t buy the latest gadgets and clothing, so that leaves me more to invest in this effort,” she added.
Hornberger said she really wants the West Clermont community to help her achieve her dream of paying for one West Clermont graduate to go to college each year.
“I think about how many businesses and citizens we have in the community,” she said. “It would only take a small donation if everyone participates. We can change lives by helping our kids get a degree without going into debt.”
Another benefit for the community is seeing that an average person can do great things, Hornberger said.
“I am not blessed with great athletic ability, but I have run fourteen marathons so far,” she said. “If you really want to do something and you love it, it is possible. There is always a way.”
Hornberger’s first race of the year was on Jan. 14 in the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Hornberger’s next race is the Galveston Marathon in Texas on Sunday, Feb. 18.
Her race schedule thereon is as follows:

– March 18, the Publix Georgia Marathon in Atlanta, Georgia
– April 8, the Go! St. Louis Marathon in St. Louis, Missouri
– May 6, the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati
– June 16, Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota
– July 22, the Big Sky Marathon in Ennis, Montana
– July 28, the Idaho Falls Marathon in Idaho Falls, Idaho
– Sept. 1, Hamilton NightGlow in Hamilton, Ohio
– Oct. 21, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon in Columbus, Ohio
– Nov. 10, the Charlotte Marathon in Charlotte, North Carolina
– Dec. 8, the Kiawah Island Golf Resort Marathon in Kiawah Island, South Carolina

To learn more about the scholarship and how to donate, please visit: bit.ly/WCscholarship.