Pat McCallum may be introverted and petite, but do not let that fool you. She excels at every sport she puts her mind to, the latest being running.
That was shown at the recent Chicago Marathon when her time of 3 hours, 52 minutes, 12 seconds was good enough to qualify her for the 2017 Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest and most coveted 26.2 mile event.
The registration for qualified athletes for Boston 2016 closed on Sept. 23. McCallum’s qualifying time was accomplished on Oct. 11, hence her 2017 entry. At least it gives her plenty of time to prepare for a personal best.
“Running such a fast time was a huge surprise as I never expected I could run the race that fast,” she said.
“Training through the hot Cayman summer, many of my training runs did not go well. Some were disastrous, so I had no idea what to expect of myself.”
When McCallum registered for Chicago in February, her goal time was 3:55. “However, by race day I was considering anything under 4:15 as a good time.
“The marathon was well organized and the whole city was energized.”
The weather was in the mid-50s F, which is extremely cold for McCallum, so she was mightily concerned about what to wear.
“In the end, I wore my usual warm weather running gear and shivered through the start. “The atmosphere was amazing. There were thousands of people lining the streets and cheering the runners on.
“Friends had told me how awesome the atmosphere was, but to experience it firsthand was truly wonderful and beyond my expectations. I couldn’t stop smiling.”
She decided to stick with the 3:55 pace and “see how it felt.” At mile 16, McCallum felt extremely comfortable and decided to increase her pace and go with how she felt.
“I also didn’t check my watch, which was a good idea as I would have thought I was going too fast and reeled myself back in.”
She will run the Intertrust Cayman Islands Marathon on Sunday, and with that in mind, she followed the Chicago run with a regimented training plan and supplemented it with a yoga and a ball rolling class once a week to improve her core strength, flexibility and reduce muscle soreness.
A busy mum of three sporty sons, marathon training suits her schedule. “I have quite a number of running friends, however I train alone,” she said.
“I prefer to train early in the mornings and with the morning school run and distances I cover, it is easy to just run out the door and run.”
Not fiercely driven to always better her times, conquering marathons is more recreational for the 48-year-old law firm finance director.
“Qualifying for Boston was never a goal for me. I only run for the enjoyment. However, I would like to challenge myself at longer endurance events.”
McCallum’s sporting excellence began way back when she received the Netballer of the Year award in 1984.
She represented Cayman at the eighth World Netball Championships in Sydney, Australia, in 1991 and then made the decision to focus on squash, winning more than 20 South Sound Club and national championships.
McCallum represented Cayman at the Women’s World Team Squash Championships in Vancouver in 1992 and attained a No. 2 Caribbean ranking in 1993.
The Cayman Islands Female Sportsperson of the Year award in 1993 was acknowledgment of her brilliance on the court.
She was a runner in primary and high school, but once she started playing netball and squash in high school, running was just to cross-train.
“Once my first child (Alex) was born in 1994, my focus shifted to my family. I didn’t have the time to train as before and compete at the high level I was accustomed to. I lost the passion to compete and just played squash league games for fun.
“My focus was my young family – the boys were involved in many activities – and supporting Tom whilst he sat on various voluntary boards.”
After Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the squash club had to be rebuilt and McCallum started running regularly just for exercise. “I found myself running farther and farther and enjoying the physical challenge and solitude.”
Although running two 13.1 mile loops of the Cayman Marathon is mentally hard, McCallum wants the challenge of another marathon and this one is at home, no travel involved – “So got to do it.” The fun element also makes it worthwhile, with great water stops and some people in zany costumes. Last year the skinniest-ever Father Christmas made an appearance.
This is McCallum’s 10th time participating in the Cayman marathon, including seven half-marathons, and her third time in the full distance.
“In 2007, I had cramps for the last six miles, and in 2014 for the last two miles. I was looking for an overseas marathon to run before my second one in 2014, but with the boys’ school and sports schedule, travel was not possible. This year my goal is to finish cramp free!”
McCallum is supporting Nikki’s Voice this year. Nikki’s Voice is the duo of Nikki Christian, who has spastic cerebral palsy, and ultra-distance athlete Scott Ruby, who will push her in a pram.
McCallum has passed on her sporting genes to her sons. Alex, 22, is in his final year at the University of Loughborough, in England and Iain, 18, is in his first year at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. They are studying economics and accounting.
Both are competitive swimmers for their universities and represented Cayman at the Island Games in Jersey in the summer. Nick, 12, plays roller hockey and football and has recently started playing squash again.
After the Cayman run, McCallum will tackle the Miami Marathon in January, and she is contemplating the local Off the Beaten Track ultra-marathon as a solo runner.
As a swim parent, she would love to see a 50 meter pool in Cayman, a project her husband Tom has campaigned for too. “We would be able to host first-class swimming competitions,” she said.
“We would attract colleges for training and be able to hold international swim meets and regionally be able to host the CARIFTA swimming championships.”
McCallum added that Cayman hosts successful open water events, attracting many overseas participants “and we have the most beautiful course for those swimmers.” If there was a 50m pool, Cayman could achieve so much more, she feels.
As for her training, running in darkness is often lonely and boring, but it was far from that one morning when McCallum had a strange experience last year on one of her long runs around 4 a.m. “I heard singing and thought it was someone in a car going home from a party.”
She discovered it was a young man lying in the middle of the road, drunk and singing, trying to hitch a ride home.
“I encouraged him to get up and started hailing cars to stop to give him a lift home. Several cars passed by and I began to lose hope.
“Then one car reversed. I desperately begged the driver to give the man a lift home as he was in no shape to be left alone.
“I managed to convince him and I was so thankful to that driver as we saved the man that night. Unfortunately, I never knew the identity of either man.”