Setting the pace: Watanabe inspires others with marathon success

Shizuko Watanabe
Geology instructor Zu Watanabe paced 1:40 at the recent Heels and Hills Half Marathon along side fellow runner and friend Ethan Neyman.
Shizuko Watanabe
Geology instructor Zu Watanabe paced 1:40 at the recent Heels and Hills Half Marathon along side fellow runner and friend Ethan Neyman.
By Sidney Murillo

Running is about the art of do. That is the philosophy of marathon runner and geology teacher Shizuko “Zu” Watanabe.

Running, to her, is all about finding your own pace, setting goals each day and racing past those goals. The reward is coming face-to-face with limits and placing one foot after the other to exceed those expectations.

For Watanabe, reaching goals comes in easy strides.

“I’m a very laid-back person,” Watanabe said. “I don’t really set goals for myself each day. I do what I love, and I love running. If I didn’t have a very good running day today, oh well. There is always tomorrow.”

Watanabe’s casual attitude doesn’t keep her from winning races. More than two dozen running awards are lined up on a shelf in her office.

Even on casual runs with fellow faculty members, Watanabe often leaves them in her dust without breaking a sweat.

Ricardo Rodriguez, executive dean of College Readiness and Math, recalls his amazement at Watanabe’s speed and stamina the first time they ran together.

“It was early morning, 6 a.m., at White Rock Lake,” he said. “I’ve been running for a while, so I thought, ‘Yeah, this is going to be an easy run.’ We started running, and after a couple of miles there was not a change in pace. I was tired, and she was still going. After three miles, I just had to stop for water, catch my breath and relax a bit. She was still very energized.”

Though others say she is a great athlete, Watanabe remains humble, confessing that there are still things about herself she would like to improve.

“One thing I’m not very good with is nutrition,” she said. “I eat a lot of junk food. That’s one thing I would like to change about myself. But it doesn’t really affect my running.”

Watanabe’s athleticism also inspires English professor Kassandra Buck.

“It’s fun,” Buck said of running with Watanabe. “She is a true athlete. She is inspiring me to run more marathons and beat my records.”

However, it took Watanabe time to get to where she is now.

Growing up in Indiana, she ran track and cross country in high school, then sprinted to Hanover College and joined the cross country team there.

She ran her first marathon during a study-abroad semester at the University of Wollongong in Sydney, Australia.

“I remember that I really wanted to be part of something,” she said. “I saw a flyer for a local race, so I said, ‘Why not?’”

Watanabe runs a variety of distance races. There are 5Ks that are 3.01 miles long and 10Ks that cover 6.21 miles.

She also enjoys running marathons, which span 26.2 miles.

This year, she has run one marathon for fun, and plans to race a marathon later this month in Dallas.

“I do a lot of pacing too,” she said. “The last marathon I raced was a 5K run called the Heels and Hills run. I was there as a pacer. What I do as a pacer is I hold up a sign with a number like 8 minutes and 20 seconds and run. Those who wish to run in that time follow me.”

Watanabe is also a member of the Dallas Running Club, whose members are both aspiring marathon runners and more experienced runners.

Running can be competitive, but it’s also a sport Watanabe enjoys sharing with her friends.

Speech professor Nick Vera, along with Rodriguez, Buck and Watanabe are currently making plans to run the Oklahoma City Marathon, a relay race that takes place during the spring.

Rodriguez knows Watanabe will set the pace for the team.

“She is just on a different level,” he said.

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