Sue Moller wasn’t always a runner.
The 43-year-old North Merrick native, a guidance counselor at Lynbrook High School, admittedly hated running. She dreaded having to run a mile in high school, and for most of her adult life, that attitude prevailed.
It wasn’t until about five years ago, when she started taking classes at a local Orangetheory Fitness — a gym that combines endurance training and weightlifting into hour-long sessions — that her outlook began to change. Moller said she would run and walk in intervals, and soon enough, she was able to run a couple of miles on a treadmill.
“To me, that’s really what made me see that oh my gosh — I can run,” Moller told the Herald last week. “Anyone can do it, and you can do it at your own pace, and that’s the great thing about running.”
She began to run consistently in 2018, and finished a 5K race between Grand Avenue Middle School, in Bellmore, and Merrick Avenue Middle School, in Merrick. In 2019 she joined a new running club, the North Merrick Runners.
It wasn’t until 2020 that Moller began to challenge herself a bit more, she explained.
“During the pandemic, we were so bored, and we would do challenges,” she said. “That really got me into running, and wanting to run more.”
In the spring of 2020, she started a “run streak,” challenging herself to run a mile every day. The streak began on Memorial Day, and she intended to end it on July 4, but she realized it was easy, and convenient that the dead-end street she lives on was a quarter-mile loop.
“I would run my block four times,” she said. “I’m a single mom, so when my kids were home, they played in my dead-end street, and I could watch them the entire time. I was able to do this mile every day because it was conducive to where I lived.”
Moller extended the challenge to succeeding holidays — Labor Day, then Veterans Day, and eventually she was committed to making it an entire year.
That was when everything suddenly changed.
She signed up to run her first virtual half-marathon in March 2021. Just two days before the race, which she planned to run at Cedar Creek Park in Seaford, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The race, which she had trained so long for, should have been a breeze, but with the diagnosis, Moller felt a whirlwind of emotions and a lot of uncertainty about her future as a runner.
“We pulled up to the start line, and my friend was like, ‘Are you ready?”’ Moller recounted. “Running-wise I was ready, but I felt like I’d gotten the (crap) kicked out of me emotionally.
“I had a sub-two-hour time,” she added, “which was my only goal. I said, listen, if I’m never running again, this is how I’m going out.”
Moller underwent a double mastectomy that April, and continued to run a mile every day up until the surgery. She even woke up early on the morning of the operation, just after midnight, and went for a run.
Her run streak fell just short of a year, at 323 days.
“My motto now, going forward, is make it to 324,” she said. “Just make it to the next day. It doesn’t matter about the year — just make it one day more.”
After her surgery, she didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation treatments, and after eight weeks of recovery, she began training for the 2021 New York City Marathon.
It’s not easy to enter the race, the largest marathon in the world in terms of participation. It attracts some 50,000 runners annually, most of whom get into the race on a lottery system, or by joining a charity organization that sponsors a participating team.
In her first year as a marathoner, Moller got into the field by joining Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s charity team, known as Fred’s Team. She raised $6,800, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to cancer research, and finished with a time of 4 hours, 55 minutes, 33 seconds.
This year, she secured a spot by way of the lottery. The weather two Sundays ago made the race absolutely brutal — and it was something that no runner was fully prepared for. Typically, temperatures are in the 40s or 50s, with little humidity. The high on race day, Nov. 6, was 74 degrees, with 86 percent humidity.
“It was terrible,” Moller said. “I carried water, which I never usually do. It was a tough race — it makes your lungs hurt, breathing in thick air. There were a lot more people walking, so it was hard to get around people. Everyone was cramping — I carried salts with me too.
“But I finished it,” she added, “and considering I’ve only been running for a couple years, I guess it’s pretty cool.”
She crossed the finish line in 5:12:24, and despite being disappointed that she didn’t beat her time from last year, Moller said she knew she was going to finish, even though she had to take some walking breaks toward the end of the race.
Even after everything she has been through in the past couple of years, she said she still believes anyone has what it takes to become a runner, just like she did.
“There’s a lot of roadblocks,” Moller said, “but as long as you stick with it every day, and just go out and do (that) mile, whether you’re walking or running, like I first did when I started, gradually it just becomes easier and easier.”