“The hardest part of running is getting out the door.” So says NANCY COLE. “The hardest part of any race is the first mile. Running is just something I have to do. I can’t not do it, no matter how slow I am.”
It’s a beautiful morning at White Rock Lake this July 8th morning, and Nancy is in a good mood. Not that that’s unusual. But to be photographed at 6:30 a.m. as the sun is rising can be challenging for some people. “I am so flattered that you would want to interview me. Thank you for the great compliment.”
Though she jokingly asked for “Glamour Shots” on her first sitting for us January 3, at the White Rock Lake Bath House when it was 30 degrees, those pictures weren’t acceptable. In this interview there were questions she couldn’t answer or didn’t have the answers to, “So I did the best I could,” she wrote.
As the runner she is, Nancy is known for her competitiveness. “I was never competitive until the last 5-10 years. Now I am insanely so. I have always been slow so it wasn’t until my age group started getting smaller that I began placing in races.”
She can’t stand being called a jogger. “No matter how slow I am going, it’s running to me and I’m going as fast as I can.”
Her true spunk comes out in her honesty.
“Running is so important to me, mentally as well as physically. I think that running keeps me feeling young. I don’t feel old and am not sure what old is supposed to feel like. I intend to run until I just can’t, but I hope that doesn’t happen. But of course, someday it probably will. Then maybe I’ll show up at races and cheer the rest of you on, while eating chocolate and not worrying about it.”
Nancy was born at the Florence Nightingale Hospital in Dallas, December 28, 1941. Later, that building would be renamed Baylor Hospital. Being a native of the city, she is a rarity. She was an only child to her parents, Clifton who was a manager for Universal Life and Accident Company, and Margret Cole who was a manager for Western Union. “They were both very brilliant people, my mother was Valedictorian.”
Their only child wanted to make art from the very beginning of childhood. “When I told them that I was going to major in art, you would have thought I had told them that I was going to rob banks.”
Today, she has her own art studio where she does sculptures in clay and is on the White Rock Artists Studio Tour every year in October. She does several art shows each year where she sells her work.
Not as much now, but she was quiet and shy as a child. “I loved playing with my dolls as well as playing ball and riding my bike with friends. My biggest fear was of the atomic bomb.” In 1956 when Nancy was 15 yrs. old. The Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union escalated. The fear of a nuclear war drove many Americans to dig bomb shelters. For some, eventual attack seemed inevitable. It was also a time when American school children were being taught to “duck and cover” in case of nuclear attack, scaring these kids with nightmares and fears of catastrophe.
But she had a faithful best friend in her dog, Blackie. A mutt is how she describes her companion. “There was not a leash law back then and Blackie went everywhere I went. He would walk me to school every morning and be sitting on the corner waiting for me when school was out. I thought he sat there all day but my mother said that he came home while I was in school. He would walk with me to my piano lessons and wait on the teacher’s porch for me. Blackie lived to be 17.” Nancy still likes dogs. She has a 12 ½ yr. old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, named Storm.
She started running while in elementary school where she joined a relay team. This is while she lived in Ft. Worth, briefly. “I was the last leg of the team. We came in 3rd in the city championships. I guess that was the beginning of my running ‘career.’
Nancy also lived through a disappointing time when she moved back to Dallas and attended the DISD school, Oak Cliff High School. She graduated in 1960 without having participated in one athletic event because there were no programs for girls back then. Instead, she opted for drill team, disappointingly.
She currently has three art degrees: two from UNT in 1964 and 1968, and the third from SMU in 1974. She became what she wanted to be: an art teacher. She retired from teaching in DeSoto, 1997. But didn’t feel she was done. “I began teaching at Dallas Baptist University in the College of Fine Art, where I still teach drawing, sculpture and design. I love art and I love teaching in addition to loving running.”
She officially began running as an adult at the age of 38 in 1980. Her first race was the now long forgotten race Run For The Arts 10K in 1981. It was one of Dallas’ popular races and on the spring schedule for many elite runners. She finished in just under an hour. The race was her favorite for many years but she is no longer sure she has a favorite. “I love them all, even though I might complain about the hills. I don’t really like hills but they do make a race interesting. A flat course is nice but can also become boring.”
She used to always run with friend and fellow teacher, ELIZABETH JORDAN. She was a runner and an inspiration. We ran and raced together until she moved to San Angelo about 15 years ago. I was never able to beat her, though. She said that her best motivation was hearing someone yell, ‘Go, Nancy.’ If I even got close to her, she would take off.”
Today, it’s a little bit of everybody. But she considers all of them good friends of hers. She does most of her runs alone. “Sometimes MARY SALTER will run with me. I love it because she makes me go faster.” They are in the same age group and often compete in the same races. “If I can’t win, I want Mary to win.”
Other times she meets up with BETTY FORSVALL (PTN interview, March 2011) and JAN RICHARDS (PTN interview, March 2007) but only for her short 5-6 mile runs. All of them are in the same age group. “If we do a short sprint, Jan can still beat me.”
Every Wednesday morning I meet Mary, Jan, Betty and MURRAY FORSVALL, JOYCE BREGMAN, JIM ROCHEL, and GRACE PINELL. Some of us go five miles, some less, but we all meet at Barbec’s for breakfast. Fortunately, my teaching schedule allows me to do that.”
She follows the South Beach diet closely, she says. But she doesn’t eat meat because she’s a vegetarian. “As much as I run and exercise, I should be able to eat anything I want, but I can’t. I gain weight very easily.”
She also runs with the Dallas Running Club (Cross Country Club of Dallas) when she can. Nancy’s been a member since 1982 and has seen a lot of changes in the club. “I am also in the Plano Pacers and also do their monthly races. What a great group of people runners are!”
Other running inspirations are the local legend OVILLE ROGERS who holds the world record in almost every category in his age group (he’s 95) and JAN RICHARDS. She was inducted into the Texas Hall of Fame for setting many national age group records. She was the first Texas woman over the age of 60 to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and set the national age group record in the process. Jan is 86. Her and Orville will “always be at the top of my list,” Nancy says.
Former New York City Marathon winner, PRISCILLA WELCH, presented Nancy with a fourth place plaque at her first marathon in San Antonio, 1991. “I told her that she was my hero and what a pleasure it was to meet her. She said, ‘No, you are my hero. How can anyone run for 5 1/2 hours!’”
Nancy’s done 34 marathons including London and Paris. “I love the feeling I get when I finish a marathon. I am often overwhelmed and get all teary that I can really do that. I don’t get that awesome feeling with any other distance, although I am very thankful that I am able to run any distance.”
But her favorite course is the Leading Ladies Marathon in Spearfish, South Dakota. “They bus you up to the top of a mountain and you run down for about 25 miles. Of course, you can hardly walk afterwards.”
In 2012, Nancy placed 3rd at the USA Track and Field Marathon Championship in her age group at the Twin Cities Marathon. She had to wear a placard on her back with her age on it. “It turned out to be a fun thing.” She got all sorts of comments. “People would pass me and say things like, ‘I hope I can still run at 70,’ or ‘Are you really 70?’ and, ‘Good job, etc.’ The comments made me feel great and kept me running,” and on the podium.
In late fall 2013, she found out by accident she had won her age group in the National Rock ‘n Roll Grand Prix Half Marathon Series. Other Dallas area winners included were SHEILA NATHO (PTN interview), LINDA KELLY (PTN interview), DEBBIE CLARK, and WALLY CAPPS. Cole won by over 20 points more than her nearest competitor. Only one point separated Kelly from Clark. “We had fun traveling around to different cities to run. It’s hard to believe, but there were 75 in my age group that were in the Grand Prix Series. And those were only the ones that placed in the top five. Who would have guessed that there are that many 70+ year old women running half marathons? We wouldn’t have known that we were leading in a competition if Debbie Fetterman had not put it in her column, Nov 15, 2013, page 2C of the Sports Section.”
One of her favorite races in 2013 was the Mexico City Marathon half, “which wasn’t part of the Rock ‘n Roll races. I loved the course as well as the people.”
Nancy holds the elite runners in high esteem. “I really appreciate the fast runners such as Sheila Natho, Linda Kelly, and Jacob Phillips, and others who seem to consider me a runner, even though they are probably at home taking a shower by the time I finish a race.”
Feeling Dallas and Ft. Worth area races are fun and that most are well organized, she has no complaints. “It seems to me that most Dallasites are supportive of the races in our area. I prefer races that support a charity.”
The PR’s of Cole
5K – 26.24 1984 Jogger Summer Series
5 miles – 45.40 1992 Cupids Chase
10K – 55.49 1986 (?)
8 miles – 1:17 1992 Turkey Trot
15K – 1:31 1992 White Rock
10 Miles – 1:33 1991 Tropical Ten (on my 50th bd)
1/2 marathon – 2:12 1991 White Rock
20K – 2:07 1992 Waterworks
Marathon – 5:03 1992 New York
Nancy tries to watch where she’s going…now, she says. Running in Santa Fe, she stepped on a rock while looking at the houses. She broke her foot. She’s had other more common injuries but that was the worst.
Sometimes Nancy attracts the bizarre, as she calls this running experience.
Running down the street, a newspaper carrier came up alongside Nancy, and winged a newspaper at her, then drove off. The newspaper hit Nancy in the head. “Surely she could have waited one more second, or do you think she did it on purpose?”
“When I run, I think of different things or nothing at all. I do try to keep my thoughts pleasant. I sometimes do ‘thankful runs’ where I list in my mind all of the things for which I am thankful. I also have some chants that I do in my mind, such as, ‘I am healthy, I feel great, I am thankful for this day.’ When I’m doing a marathon, I sometimes sing a song, with changes, that I sang in Sunday school growing up. ‘Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning.’ Only I sing, ‘Give me oil in my legs keep me running.’ Or feet, or knees. Now you know my silly secrets!”
She has done the Jog’r Summer 5K Series for 31 years, almost a record, “and plans to keep doing it. It keeps me going during those hot summer months.” She thinks she hit her highest mileage during the Texas Marathon Challenge of 2001-2002. “I don’t think I’ve ever trained much over 40 miles a week and most of the time, it’s between 25 and 30 miles.”
She does cross train, however. “I do Jazzercize, and yoga. I love to dance and Jazzercize gives me that opportunity plus being good all-over exercise. And occasionally ride my bike. I love the Ride of Silence.”
For 2014, she’s planning on completing the Rock ‘n Roll half marathon races so she can win a pass into the series’ races. She also would like to complete a marathon this year, possibly St. Louis, October 19. “My body is running out of marathons so I want to do ones that I haven’t done before.” She did three in 2012 and one in 2013 because I got so involved in the Rock ‘n Roll Halves.”
Nancy stays busy outside of running. First, there’s her teaching and art. And she loves to hike. Plus, she’s a voracious reader going to the Lakewood Library once week, at least. “I like mysteries, and based-on-fact novels.” One of her favorites this year has been Wild about the young man who goes to Canada to live off the land. It reminds her of her own hiking experiences. She’s currently reading Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed, a novel about Columbine.
Nancy cultivates her spirituality by attending the White Rock United Methodist Church where she plays in the bell choir. She’s active in the Sunday school class there and United Methodist Women group. In addition, she’s with Dallas Emmaus Community, a non-denominational Christian support organization. “Even though I will run special races on Sunday, I prefer Saturday races. My faith is very important to me and attending worship services are part of that.”
She used to be all about fashion coordinating her running clothes. “But now I mostly dress for comfort.” A bargain shopper in everything but her running clothes, she does most of her shopping at Steinmart or the Loft. “And usually the sale rack.”
After starting out in Brooks running shoes 33 years ago, she says they work best for her, despite trying many other brands over time. Specifically, she wears the Brooks Ghost. Nancy’s very specific on her music. She likes everything mostly, except jazz. “I don’t understand it. It reminds me of a Jackson Pollock painting.” Her favorite music is the blues and some classic rock. “Eric Clapton is my favorite singer.”
After 21 years of marriage, she divorced. At first, it was hard, but she pereserved. She has two grown children, daughter DEBBIE and son JASON EARNEST, an avid runner, a daughter-in-law, STACY, and a grandson, TYLER, who is a student at Collin County College, and an occasional runner with Nancy and Debbie.
The sun is up at White Rock Lake. The runners and cyclists are out. The pace of the day has started and sends Nancy to places where she feels life in her veins: her art and her running.