Standing on the start line, she appears sweet and innocent without an aggressive or competitive bone in her body. Her lips aren’t even pursed. She is even polite on the start line, saying pleasantries.
FIONA GREEN, at 5’3” 99 lbs, runs along and in between the shadows of tree limbs at Flag Pole Hill. She’s Dallas’ latest addition to its growing female running population. “Five foot four in running shoes,” she says, thin and petite, exactly how you want to be built to be a runner.
Her dark blond hair is straight, with wisps that refuse to be contained as she moves into the lead with the sound of the gun. The wisps have a mind of their own. As she is still somewhat new to the north Texas running scene, the other women don’t know what to make of her. A flash in the pan? An out-of-towner? Or a new comer? With a healthy sense of humor, she is as playful as a woman half her age. But then at 42, the admitted late-bloomer could easily pass for a woman half her age. Her soft eyes and sweet disposition can be easily hurt or discouraged, and just as easily buoyed back.
After encouraging remarks following a mediocre performance, she responds, “Thanks for the encouragement. I think maybe I have to just eat more carbs.” When the similarity between gambling and racing is observed, Fiona says, “You’re right! That’s what makes it exciting!” And she’s back, ready to take aim again.
Her Scottish accent is both charming and a curiosity to a North Texans’ ears, with phrases such as “niggling” (bothersome), “fancy,” (as in, fancy that) and “giving it laldy” (giving it all you’ve got). “Most people seem to like the accent, others find it hard to understand. When we visited a Thai restaurant in Keller the waiter asked if I was French because I speak so quickly.”
She worries about how she looks (“I like the photo but I’d like it even more if I didn’t have the squinting lines at my forehead.I hope you were able to get a decent photo. It was a little chilly so my smile was probably a little frozen looking. I know how those swimsuit models must feel when they pose in bikinis in the snow!” She smiles bashfully. “But maybe you want the true, natural look.”) and if she’s good enough to be on the cover of The Phast Times News (“Surely I’m not on the cover! I don’t look good when enlarged to anything larger than wallet size. I don’t feel like I belong in Phast Times News at the moment.”).
On the web site www.clinesrunnnigcorner.com by CHARLES CLINE, there is a short piece about Fiona. “Fiona Green is a virtual newcomer to the area, having moved from Montreal, Canada, in November of 2005. Since then, though, she has introduced herself quite well by winning several women’s masters and overall titles. A native of Scotland, she didn’t begin running until she was about 21. She took up running to help lose some weight that had been increasing during her collegiate years. She increased her running after moving to Montreal and meeting a college professor who was an enthusiastic runner. Even without putting in the necessary training, she ran the Montreal marathon and finished under four hours. She has continued to improve since moving here and is contemplating competing in a triathlon, if she can learn how to swim better, which basically she said means moving forward.”
Outside of running, she is a photographer, starting her own business, but also enjoys traveling, cooking, gardening, woodworking and writing. “My initial interest was in portraiture and travel photography, until the day I adopted two beautiful ginger Tabbies. Since then, my passion and focus has been animal photography, primarily cats and dogs.For the past seven years I provided photographs for the annual calendar of the Montreal SPCA. My work has appeared in the magazines, Cat Fancy, I Love Cats and Dogs in Canada. In my most recent assignment for Dogs in Canada, I provided images for an article on feral cats, shot while on location in Greece.” Her web site, www.fionagreenphotography.com, shows her work as well as her personality, though she says “It’s still a work in progress.” She even occasionally photographs runners! “I have shot a few races and really enjoyed this. However I don’t like to miss out on running so I usually take photos of runners in other races after I’ve finished my race.” She may have a book of her images coming out soon.
As a girl born (Oct 12, 1964) and raised in Paisley, Scotland, the oldest of a brother and sister, her dad was an engineer and her mom worked for the government in civil service. She grew up enjoying school as a Brownie, but was very shy and quiet. Ironically, she says her worst subject was physical education, “by far. Art was a close second.” With interests in reading and languages, she usually did charity work. Her heroes were very few, though she would watch the Olympics and Wimbledon.
Fiona has been educated internationally. After an undergrad degree in French and German (1985), she earned a Post graduate diploma in European Languages and Marketing at Napier University in Scotland.In 1991, she moved to Canada to study Commercial Photography at Dawson Institute of Photography in Montreal. It was after college that she found her creative identity, taking classes in photography. Fiona now lives in Keller, Texas. Now her heroes are a select group and easily defined. “I am more impressed by people who make a difference in the lives of others by making sacrifices themselves. True heroes are not necessarily athletes or celebrities but real people who live modestly and choose to remain anonymous. In sports, I admire athletes who genuinely seem to care about their sports and are not simply in it for the money. There are too many prima donnas these days.”
It was after her first year of college that she began running, inspired by a friend who “insensitively remarked that I must have done nothing but eat since I started University. Admittedly I had been eating more than usual but if there was dessert on the table I couldn’t let it go to waste. The fact that fudge making was for me a means of relaxation after hours of studying probably didn’t help. At that point I wasn’t really influenced by any runners, as they were athletes, and I was merely a fat student waddling around campus trying to lose some weight. I had nothing in common with runners.”
But there were some who gave her emotional support during her first couple of years. One was a photography teacher, and the other was a high school team. “A friend had told me the coach was interested in finding new members but had forgotten to mention it was a kid’s club. The coach didn’t mind the age difference and I had some great workouts with the group. Some of the runners were provincial champions but they were all so positive and really welcomed me into their group.” As a result of that experience, Fiona is interested in starting “some kind of kid’s running club, as I enjoy working with children and know how running can change lives.”
She giggled with her husband and friends at her first race, a 10K in Montreal in 1991. Determined not to get beat by her husband, Mirek Kunagl, she went off like a shot at the start, hoping to get to an agreed upon spot beyond the finish before him. “When I finished, I was relieved to see that he was not yet there. After the race he was speaking to me about all the places we’d passed on the run. I stared at him blankly. I had not taken the time to enjoy the view but had just kept looking straight ahead. He’s run a few races since then and always informs me afterwards of what we passed on the way.”
Fiona and Mirek were married August 14, 1992 near St. Andrews in Scotland. He’s Czechoslovakian. They met while Fiona was a graduate student at a summer job in the Edinburgh tourist center. “He was a tourist,” she says almost stating the obvious. “We had a long distance relationship for two years with frequent visits to Canada and Scotland.”
She got the chance to go back to Edinburgh, Scotland to visit the person she used to be, “a fat student.” Despite a short downpour at the start, she says it was great passing by many of the historic buildings and bringing back many memories. “It was also exciting for me as it was my first race in Scotland. I was happy to finish 5th female overall after the elites and win a pair of sunglasses.”
Running for Fiona means “It’s the start to a good day. It clears my head and helps me sleep well. It’s really who I am. I could go on and on. I use the time to think of what I have to do during the day. Often I’ll get some of my best ideas when I am running.” To get her out the door she thinks of “how good I’ll feel if I do and how bad I’ll feel if I don’t.” She trains alone.
She turned heads when she did her first race in north Texas and won. “It was a 15K at the Bath House Cultural Centre at White Rock Lake on August 14, 2005, our wedding anniversary. We had come down to visit the area for a few days and check out houses. So I thought I might as well do a race while I was here. I was so impressed by the way the race was organized, the trophies, and encouraging words of the awards presenter, that I decided to come back for more!” And heads are still turning.
Fiona is generally happy with the wealth of competition, and running/racing opportunities. “The fact that Master’s runners [those over the age of 40] are acknowledged here is wonderful.” She speaks for the masses when she says what frustrates her. “My pet peeve is when a race is supposedly certified and is clearly long or short. There seems to be a breakdown in communication that occurs after a course is certified and it seems that volunteers are left to guess where to put cones and road markings. For runners who would like to gauge their progress or chase a PR, this is an endless source of frustration.”
She is also adapting to Texas, “I have come to the conclusion that I am definitely a warm weather runner,” and Texans, “you have no doubt had the experience of total strangers making comments when you are out training. I have had people tell me to run faster, offer me water, and on one occasion tell me to slow down. Yesterday, I was quite amused by a young kid walking with his friend. As I jogged by, he asked me ‘Excuse me ma,am. Do you ever walk?’’ I tend to forget that even although I am in my zone, people can still see me.”
Currently, she is training at 40 miles a week, though has had problems with her Achilles tendon in the past. Her schedule is as follows:
Sunday– a short run
“The past year I raced as much as I could in the D/FW area so I could get to know my surroundings,” Fiona pointed out. But she likes racing in the Lake Grapevine area best. “My husband comes with me, and while I’m running he likes to try out new breakfast places. He’s now visited at least 40 restaurants. Next year I will continue to do more races locally, possibly including a marathon at some point. But I’d also like to race elsewhere in Texas so my husband can continue in his quest to discover Texas’ best breakfast joint.” Her favorite restaurant is the vegetarian restaurant, Kalachandi, in the Hare Krishna Temple. “The food is great and the decor is so relaxing.”
And what is her racing strategy? “I love passing a runner in the final stretch of a race. It doesn’t matter if they are in my age group. Or even male or female. It just feels good! Like a real race. I also like to do this when I am training, just to keep in practice. I know, it’s quite sad.” A giggle spreads across her face.
Fiona’s PR’s were all set in 2006.
5K – 19:10
10K – 40:57
Half marathon – 1:30:36
Her only marathon was over 4 hours. “Now that I am finally in shape, I’m tempted to try another marathon.”
Her first triathlonin October 2006,was a reverse triathlon, where athletes run first, bike second, and swim last. It was a surprise for Fiona. She finished 3rd in her age group, and a very respectable 17th overall. “I got off to a great start but was passed by many people on the bike.” She wrote the accompanying story “Try A Tri” about her experience (see below). “I may do another,” she hinted.
At the finish line, her lips are wide and smiling. The hidden competitiveness has left her body, but her stray wisps are even more stray, and seem to relish in the freedom of having flown free to yet another finish line.
Tri a Try
By FIONA GREEN
Shortly after moving to Texas I made a promise to myself that within a year, I would complete a triathlon. After all, I could run, I owned a bike and although I couldn’t actually swim a lap of the crawl (freestyle) without gasping for air, I understood the basic principles behind swimming.
In preparation I signed up for swimming lessons at the Keller Natatorium in August. Thanks to my patient, 20-year old coach, Wes, I built up my endurance and was soon able to swim 60 lengths non-stop although my flip turns still left much to be desired. I didn’t specifically train for the bike portion of the race, mistakenly believing that my daily 10 minute commute to the pool or grocery store on my 30 lb Peugeot counted as ‘time on the bike’.
The words “transition zone,” “brick,” and “false flat” had been added to my vocabulary.
By late September I had still not crossed Triathlon off my to-do list. This was partly because I was having too much fun racing every weekend but also because a triathlon still seemed like a huge leap into the unknown. The words “transition zone,” “brick,” and “false flat” had been added to my vocabulary, but the whole event still seemed so complicated. One morning I found a leaflet stuck to my car windshield promoting a reverse triathlon in Keller on October 22. I kept the leaflet ‘just in case’. A week later as a birthday gift my sister paid my entry fee for the event, assuring me it would be a great experience.
Once I had received my registration confirmation there was no turning back and it was time to figure out details like where to purchase my one day license, when to have my bike inspected, what to do if I crashed etc etc. To ease my mind, I decided to cycle the bike course, calculating that 12 miles shouldn’t take me much longer than 40 minutes. 40 minutes passed, 50 minutes and I was still nowhere near home. An hour later I arrived back at the Keller Natatorium, deflated and confused. Admittedly I hadn’t changed gears once, the course was fairly hilly and it was actually 13 miles and not 12. However, the reality was I was SLOW. My Peugeot was by no means a racing bike. I might as well ride a grand piano – at least then I could have music helping me up those hills. Rooting around in the garage I found a lighter bike belonging to my husband. While it was clearly too large for me, a visit to the local bike shop ensured that I was at least able to sit down without too much pain. I cycled the course once again. It was easier this time, although I felt as though I were riding a tandem bike from the rear seat. In panic I e-mailed the race director to ask what their policy was regarding cancellations. It was quite simple – no refunds! Reluctant to throw away $60 I decided to go ahead with my long bike. At least it was better than a grand piano.
On race morning I arrived at the Natatorium at 6am as the event staff were setting up. I quickly established where to place my bike, where to enter and exit the transition zone, what to wear and what not to wear. Before I knew it, we were all lined up, runners, duathletes and triathletes, and then we were off. As it was a reverse tri, the event started with the run portion – familiar territory. Finishing in 1st place out of the women triathletes I felt I was off to a good start. However, a couple of miles into the bike course people of all shapes and sizes started to pass me effortlessly – old people, young people, fat, thin… I swear I even saw Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz with Toto in tow. At one point as I was switching gears, there was a horrible, crunching noise which seemed to go on forever. Convinced my chain had fallen off or broken I jumped off to check it out, knowing that if anything had happened I would be ditching my bike and jogging the rest of the course. Everything looked fine so I climbed back on, massaged the gears a little and continued on my way. My hands were now freezing as my woolly gloves had become wet from the water dripping from my camel pack, which it turns out I didn’t really need anyway. Once I’d completed the bike ride, I stripped off and jumped into the pool. After only a couple of strokes, I felt breathless. It was as if I’d forgotten how to swim. To make matters worse, my hair tie snapped and my hair was now all over my face, in front of my eyes, in my mouth! As I flailed around trying to retrieve my hair tie and gasping like a fish out of water, I worried that the concerned lifeguards might try to fish me out. I decided to continue with the breast stroke. To my surprise I even passed a few people and crossed the finish line in 1hour and 30 minutes – 17th woman overall and 3rd in my age group. However, I couldn’t help wondering how I would have done with some specific training. I guess I’ll have to tri again…