Archdeacon: A Marathon Mom like no other

Ann Alyanak of Bellbrook is one of the most accomplished distance runners the Miami Valley has ever known. She’s the defending U.S. Air Force Marathon women’s champion and the winner of two of the last three USAF Marathons (2019 and 2017). She qualified for three US Olympic Trials – 2008, 2012 and most recently for the 2020 Trials prior to the Tokyo Games --  was the second best American woman finisher in the Boston Marathon in 2007, won the Columbus Marathon in 2011 and represented the United States in world championship  events in Hungry and Japan. A former Big Ten champion at Purdue who grew up on a farm outside of Bluffton, she was the University of Dayton cross country coach from 2004 to 2010 and was named the Atlantic 10 Conference Coach of the Year in 2009. She currently coaches athletes from across the nation on line. CONTRIBUTED
Caption
Ann Alyanak of Bellbrook is one of the most accomplished distance runners the Miami Valley has ever known. She’s the defending U.S. Air Force Marathon women’s champion and the winner of two of the last three USAF Marathons (2019 and 2017). She qualified for three US Olympic Trials – 2008, 2012 and most recently for the 2020 Trials prior to the Tokyo Games -- was the second best American woman finisher in the Boston Marathon in 2007, won the Columbus Marathon in 2011 and represented the United States in world championship events in Hungry and Japan. A former Big Ten champion at Purdue who grew up on a farm outside of Bluffton, she was the University of Dayton cross country coach from 2004 to 2010 and was named the Atlantic 10 Conference Coach of the Year in 2009. She currently coaches athletes from across the nation on line. CONTRIBUTED

BELLBROOK – She’s the most impressive marathon mom the Miami Valley has ever known.

And that’s not just because Ann Alyanak – who ran in three U.S. Olympic Trials, starred at the Boston Marathon, won the Columbus Marathon and represented the United States in world championships overseas – is the defending women’s champion of the U.S. Air Force Marathon, won two of the last three USAF Marathons and would have been the woman to beat had the race been run Saturday as originally scheduled.

For the second year in a row, COVID-19 cancelled the actual race and turned it into a virtual event.

But even a pandemic couldn’t keep Alyanak from turning in one marathon performance after another this past week, just as she will do this coming week and the week after that and the following week, too.

The 43-year-old mother of three has an active role in her young children’s lives, continues to coach athletes from across the nation, trains daily herself and, early this year, she took on the herculean task of nursing her husband Ed – an aerospace engineer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and a triathlete of note – back to health after near-death experience while biking south of Waynesville.

“She’s a fantastic athlete, an absolute amazing athlete,” said Ed, who once trained his wife. “And she’s just the same as a mom. She truly is the rock of our house.”

Or, as some of Ed’s workmates have described her: She’s “mythical.”

Take the other day when I visited her at her Bellbrook home.

She had begun her own running regimen at 5:30 am and then returned home in the predawn darkness in time to begin waking the three children: 11-year-old Eddie and 8-year-old Thomas for school and 5-year-old Emily – who goes to kindergarten every other day – for the morning ahead.

After that she began her coaching duties with V.DOT 02 (V.02), the online running program begun by legendary coach Dr. Jack Daniels. She currently mentors 11 distance runners – from high school age to in their 60s – who live across the U.S. from Ohio to places like Colorado, Georgia, New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Washington D.C.

When the kids finish school, she begins chauffeuring them to their various practices – all three play soccer and the two boys also have nightly swim practices at the Kettering YMCA – while also preparing the family dinner.

Caption
Ann Alyanak and her family: Husband Ed, an aerospace engineer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base who competes in triathlons, daughter Emily who is 5, and sons Thomas (8) and Eddie (11). CONTRIBUTED

Ann Alyanak and her family: Husband Ed, an aerospace engineer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base who competes in triathlons, daughter Emily who is 5, and sons Thomas (8) and Eddie (11). CONTRIBUTED
Caption
Ann Alyanak and her family: Husband Ed, an aerospace engineer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base who competes in triathlons, daughter Emily who is 5, and sons Thomas (8) and Eddie (11). CONTRIBUTED

And earlier this year she really showed endurance grit when she helped Ed recover from what they think was a violent collision with a deer. It left him with seven broken ribs and a severe concussion. He said it would have killed him were he not wearing a helmet.

“It was Easter Sunday and I was doing my sunrise worship, basically,” Ed said. “I was on Elbon Road, south of Waynesville, and I’m thinking, ‘I’ll be going home soon. The family is visiting and we’ll do Easter Sunday.’

“The next think I know, I was waking up and I’m touching my face and seeing blood everywhere.

“I was trying to piece everything together: ‘Where am I? What happened? What do I do now?’ All I knew was that I was in a bike accident and I was hurt bad. I was scared.”

Through GPS data, he determined he was on the ground – unconscious – for about 15 minutes.

When he came to, he somehow called his wife.

“My sister tells me that call to Ann when I was on the ground was horrific to hear,” he said. “I don’t remember it. I have very little memory of what happened. It’s kind of been deleted out. It’s hard to know when your memory catches up to what actually happened.

“I’m pretty sure a deer hit me. The road is straight and right where my bike flew off the road, the tree line stopped, which is a typical place for an animal to shoot out.

“My GPS told me I was going 37 miles an hour at the time and I know I hit the ground extremely hard.”

He was dazed when a couple who live on nearby Gard Road – “Good Samaritans,” he calls them -- found him on their way to church. They comforted him and called paramedics.

Worse than the broken bones was his “massive” concussion.

“I think it took at least 7 days before I could even stand a nightlight on in the room,” he said. “It was extremely painful to have any light on, so I just sat in a dark room with my eyes mostly closed.

“And I had it easy. It was roughest on Ann. I couldn’t go to the bathroom on my own, couldn’t move, couldn’t get comfortable.

“Every hour or two in the night, if I needed to move, I’d have to ask her for help.”

He grew quiet, then added:

“It gave me a new appreciation of how hard she works to take care of all of us.

“She may be slight in stature, but in terms of family and love and dedication, she’s just as aggressive at keeping all of us taken care of and moving forward as she is when she’s out there winning a race.

“She doesn’t back down from a challenge – no matter what it is. Sometimes you forget that and, for me, it literally took a smack in the head to remember it like I should.”

High school, college star

Ann Stechschulte grew up with three older brothers on a farm between Bluffton and Columbus Grove in northwest Ohio. Although she showed Yorkshire pigs at the Allen County Fair, she was drawn more to sports than barnyard life.

When she was 15, her mom, Janice Stechschulte, a home health care nurse, was killed in an auto accident while making her rounds in Putnam County. The loss devastated the family, but Ann said her dad – Tom – made her go back to school the first day there were classes after the funeral:

“He said we were going to grieve, but he wanted us to put one foot in front of the other and move forward. Looking back, I know there were tough days at school that first month, but the teachers and coaches were so supportive.”

She was buoyed the most by sports.

She played basketball and ran cross country and track at Bluffton High. She won state track titles at 800 meters, 1,600 meters and in the high jump.

With several college scholarship offers – including one from Ohio State – she chose Purdue and became the Big Ten cross country champ in 2001 and the 10,000 meters champ a year later. She was the MVP of the Boilermakers’ cross country team all four years.

In her last year at Purdue, she first met Ed Alyanak – an engineering student and athlete who played clarinet in the school’s concert band – when they were running a road race in West Lafayette, Ind.

She blew past him before he could make conversation, but six weeks later he finally caught up and asked her out.

After graduation she went to Wright State’s medical school for nearly a year, but then realized it wasn’t her calling. She switched to UD and, as she got her master’s degree in exercise science, she helped coach the cross country team.

A year later there was a coaching change and she got the job. She led the UD program from 2004 to 2010 and in 2009 was named the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year after the Flyers won their first-ever league crown.

Around that time she was at the peak of her career. Ed was her coach – he also assisted at UD – and she was making a big splash nationally. She represented the U.S. in world championships in Debrecen, Hungary, and Osaka, Japan. In 2007 she was the second American finisher – eighth overall – in the Boston Marathon, running a 2:34.46.

She was seventh at the Olympic Trials in 2008 and a year later she and Ed decided to start their family.

“Our introduction to parenting wasn’t necessarily smooth and easy,” Ed said. “Both Eddie and Thomas were preemies. Thomas had trouble breathing early on and it took a while getting his lungs going and getting him out of the NICU.

“All of a sudden you’re ‘all in’ as a parent. You just flip the switch. And we were surrounded by fantastic people – nurses who work brutal shifts keeping your kids alive and teaching you how to be a parent.

“And once that baby is in your arms, nothing else matters. Finally seeing your baby be able to breathe and eat on his own, that changes your whole perspective on life.”

Ann said she loves being a mom and watching her children grow and learn and follow their own pursuits.

She said she was in the best shape of her life a year after Eddie was born. And within a couple of years, she’d won the Columbus Marathon, run well at the New York City Marathon and qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials, an effort later scuttled by injury.

In 2020, she made yet another Trials, though her mindset was different this time:

“As I’ve gotten older, I haven’t gotten any faster, so I saw it from a different perspective. I knew I wasn’t going to be in front, but I ran with some younger women from Dayton and tried to show them the ropes. And I really enjoyed the experience.”

While she still competes when she can – next month she’ll run the Minster Oktoberfest Classic 10K and Ghost and Goblins 5K in Dayton – she said she often approaches training differently now. She runs 60 or so miles a week, about half of what she was doing in her heyday:

“When I was younger, it was all about constantly improving and lowering my times. Now it’s more just a mental outlet for me. I really enjoy the ‘me time’ I get from it.

“It makes me a better mom.”

Caption
Ann Alyanak wins the Air Force Marathon on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. David Jablonski/Staff

Ann Alyanak wins the Air Force Marathon on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. David Jablonski/Staff
Caption
Ann Alyanak wins the Air Force Marathon on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. David Jablonski/Staff

USAF Marathon wins

“Do you want to know a true story?” said Ed, who, by the way, is back doing triathlons again. “It’ll probably get me in trouble…but that’s OK.

“Coming into 2017, it was kind of embarrassing. Ann had done the combined 5K, 10K and half marathon challenge, but she’d never run the full Air Force Marathon, the race that’s in our own backyard.

“She decided that would be the year and in her mind she was Ann of ‘08 and she’d just go out and run.

“She did win, but the race humbled her. It was hot and she was slogging across the finish line and almost fell down. She did a 2:50 something (2:56.57) and it absolutely obliterated her body. She admitted later it was of the hardest marathon she’d ever done.

“So when she got home I said, ‘OK, are we done?’

“And she was like: ‘Oh no! I’m not going out like that! I’m better than that!’

“It was a wake-up call and she decided to give it her all.

“And I was like, ‘OK kids. Buckle down. Mommy’s gonna TRAIN for a marathon now!’

“It was exciting to see her work hard and get that fitness back. It rejuvenated her and she came back in 2019 and felt good. She felt in control.”

Ann said her 2019 race unfolded just how she planned it:

“I really enjoyed it. That last mile I could smile the whole way home.”

While she is a crowd favorite here, she admitted her family wasn’t there in 2019.

“They all have soccer games on Saturdays and I think that year it was picture day, too,” she laughed. “And that was fine. Ed and I never try to put our things ahead of the kids.”

You see that in the curio cabinet the Alyanaks have in their dining room.

While most of Ann’s medals and plaques are in Tupperware containers in the closet – and the Air Force Marathon awards are upstairs – she did have a few Big Ten medals in the case, along with a glass bowl from the Boston Marathon, a glass plate from the New York City Marathon and two small dolls from Osaka. But all of that was on a lower shelf, as were some of Ed’s triathlon awards.

The top of the case was dedicated to the kids, including a display of the first Thomas the Train toys each had gotten as Christmas presents and a set of pinewood derby cars.

While the kids might not know about Mom’s sports prominence or they’ve just taken it for granted, they did get some perspective when they were watching the recent Tokyo Olympics on TV.

“My oldest finally realized,” Ann laughed. “He said, ‘Mom, you almost made it to the Olympics?’

“And I was like, ‘Oh, not really. I was about four minutes out.’

“He said, ‘Yeah, but you were good.’ He kind of got it.”

Maybe he didn’t yet see her as “mythical,” but he was beginning to recognize she is a marathon mom like no other.

About the Author