The outcome of a lengthy break from running can be like a coin toss.
Sometimes it comes up heads and you can be faster.
Or that tumbling disc lands the other way and you don’t.
Yardley’s Morgan Leh wasn’t sure which way things were headed when she took an extended, five-year leave from the athletic exercise she so dearly loves.
As it turns out, about the only tangible result turned out to be a positive one – namely much quicker times.
In fact, she’s been running the fastest marathons of her life, capped off by a brilliant 3:18 at last November’s New York City Marathon over a notoriously difficult course through the Big Apple’s five boroughs.
“I did my first marathon (at age 19) in Philly in 2013,” said Leh. “Then I ran Boston twice and Chicago. After that I went to grad school and became a physician’s assistant now. I’ve been in practice for six years.
“It’s been a pretty crazy, hectic time in health care so I took some time off to go to school. Plus there was COVID. By 2021, I said now I’ve got to get back into this. I’m missing something.”
She made the 2021 Philadelphia Marathon her comeback race. She completed that 26.2-miler in 3:27. That was good enough for a Boston qualifier.
Then, as fate would have it, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Amazingly, just 19 days after surgery, she was able to complete the Broad Street 10-miler by walking the entire distance. Only three months later she was back up to full speed.
“That took me for a loop at 28,” she admitted. “But I came back in October and ran 3:22 at St. George (Utah), ran Boston on a bad IT band (3:31) and knew I had more. Got into New York and did that 3:18.”
Clearly, she’s all the way back and perhaps better than ever. Yet there were no guarantees she would ever return as well as she has.
“It’s something that almost stops you in your tracks,” she said. “You’re healthy, you have normal weight, you don’t smoke, no family history. Cancer doesn’t really care. We were so blessed to be able to catch it early. Unfortunately it did require surgery to remove the abnormal cells.
“But if talking about this (publicly) can force just one person to go get a mammogram or forces someone to get tested – if you get tested early it can literally save your life.”
As for this comeback, a race in the big city was just what she needed.
“New York just brought me to life, I sometimes cry just talking about it,” she said. “It reassured me that this is what I want to do. I love it so much. My mom (Colleen) pushed me, she said you can even do better. Sign up for the (Bucks County Roadrunners Club’s) Winter Series.”
Leh – who has a sister, Makenzie, and whose father, Fred, is also an excellent runner – did that and she’s been among the female leaders. At last Sunday’s Honest Abe 4.6-Miler at Tyler State Park, she was first female finisher and eighth overall in a rapid 32:28 (6:46 mile pace).
“I think it’s been almost like since 2018 that I did it,” said Leh. “Mom said, “It has everything. You run with people, you run on hills.” As usual, she was right.”
She’s running personal records in almost every race she’s doing in the WS. Much of the credit goes to a New Jersey crew, named “PRCR” (headed by Casey Coleman), that she runs with.
An alumna of Holy Family College and Thomas Jefferson University (grad school), she really didn’t get into competition until after her schooling was complete.
She’s come a long way in a short period of time. Now she’s gunning to break 3:10.
“I’m doing Boston in April and I also got into Berlin (a flat, fast course) in September,” she said. “If I stay healthy and keep at this level, I’m confident I will run sub-3:10.”
The Winter Series has hills that are so challenging it just seems to make flat courses a whole lot easier.
“It forces you to work even harder,” Leh confirmed. “It pushes your body to limits you didn’t think you would be able to get to. To tell the truth, I was running up ‘Big Bertha’ and I’m thinking, ‘why am I here?’ But you finish that, get your momentum back, cross the finish line and it just makes you better.
“It’s the camaraderie, it’s the community that understands you. I think it’s just nice to be around people who get it, the sacrifices we all make. It forces you to get out there and be a better runner.”
And better she is. There’s no telling how much better she will get. It looks like that coin is going to keep on coming up heads.
>Flood issues at Winter Series
Except for a brief snow storm a couple weekends back, the Winter Series has enjoyed a second straight season of very little white stuff.
However, with all the rain, flooding has been a problem at Tyler. Two races have had to be held on reconfigured courses because the bridge over Neshaminy Creek overflowed.
Otherwise, things are going pretty well. Just four of the 11 races on the schedule remain to be run.
“The boathouse got flooded out twice,” explained Series director John O’Brien. “So there’s a lot of planning to move stuff around. But it is the ‘Winter’ Series, so no one is complaining. Everyone’s happy to run in the snow.”
Right now it looks like both the men’s and women’s titles are up for grabs. Which is healthy for competition.
“Between Ethan Frank and Logan Brady, it looks like a tight competition for the men,” O’Brien said. “The women are kind of split between Morgan Leh and Brittany DeBord. Both men and women are going to be tight for the overall awards.”
Some of the races are drawing close to 300 runners so it’s safe to say the Series is all the way back from the COVID situation of a few years back.
Bucks County Road Runners Winter Series Terrible Tyler 15K (9.3 miles), 9 a.m., Tyler State Park, Newtown/Richboro. Contact www.bcrrclub.com