The thrill of the feat
Passion for marathons more about fun than times, medals
by Doug Gorman
Running isn't just Arlene Nicholas Saffian's passion. It's a way of life for the 46-year-old Trinidad native who now calls Coweta County home.
Nicholas Saffian has already completed nine marathons this year, and plans on running in at least 11 more of the grueling long-distance, 26-mile races, before the end of 2014.
While an active runner since her teenage years, she didn't catch the bug for marathoning until after she turned 40.
Yet for Nicholas Saffian, the time it takes to complete a race isn't nearly as important as soaking in the experience. She looks at running the same way many people view a brisk stroll in the park, often getting in 10-miles before work in the morning, and sometimes six more after work as a regular part of her day.
In a typical week, Nicholas Saffian logs close to 80 miles.
'I don't worry about my time, or how fast I am going,' she said. 'It's just a challenge to get out there and do it. There are so many health benefits to running.'
The health industry has become as much of her life, having spent nearly a decade with the Cancer Centers of America. She moved to Newnan from the Philadelphia location when its Southeastern Regional Medical Center opened in 2012 on the bypass across from Ashley Park.
Despite her busy schedule as events and volunteer coordinator for the Cancer Center, there is still plenty of time to travel and compete in the many marathons around the country.
'I have always been a runner,' she said. 'I was a sprinter in high school. After that I was just running for fun and to stay in shape.'
The passion soon ballooned into tackling marathon. While the challenge of running a 26-mile race is impressive enough, Nicholas Saffian didn't stop there.
She took on the more demanding ultramarathon in 2010, running in three of the extra-long events.
Those races are often held over cross-country terrain and push competitors for more than 30-miles.
The novice marathon runner turned in one of her most impressive performances in 2010 at the Blues Cruise 50K Trail in Pennsylvania, finishing the race in just over seven hours.
By far her biggest challenge came when she ran a 40-mile race (64.3K) in nearby Pine Mountain last December, crossing in eight hours.
Still, her biggest goal was to get into some of the more prominent road marathons.
'I really wanted to run road marathons,' she said. ' Somebody was selling their bib to the Philadelphia marathon (in 2010) so I got to run in that one, and I finished in 3 hours and 50 minutes.'
From then on she was hooked.
'That's when I realized, hey, I can run marathons. I have been running almost one or two month every year since then.'
This year's marathon schedule started in January when she entered a 26-mile race in Charleston, completing it with a time of 3:45.
Her running trips have also included one back in Trinidad.
'There is a lot of traveling involved, and it can get expensive, I don't have a sponsor, but it is just something I love to do I certainly wanted to run in my home country.'
She turned in her best time so far this year at the Mercedes Benz Marathon in Birmingham, completing the race in 3:35.
Nicholas Saffian laced up her running shoes to compete in the most famous 26 mile run of them all- the Boston Marathon.
She competed in that race for the first time in April, running the course just one year after a bombing exploded near the finish line killing three people and hurting more than 260 runners and spectators.
One year after the tragedy, there was more to this year's Boston Marathon than just running.
'It was such a somber event,' she said. ' There were people who were there just to be a part of what was going on. There were a lot of people there to mourn what had happened to the country.'
She enjoyed her experience in Boston and despite the prestige of the race, isn't not her favorite.
That distinction belongs to the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.
'I love running in it. It is by far my favorite,' Nicholas Saffian said. 'To me it means a lot because one of my son did four years in the Navy. Anything military is special. It means a lot for even the country because when you run that race you see pictures off the fallen soldiers all around. It gets very emotional.'
She has also run in the San Francisco Marathon, hopping a plane and returning to Georgia soon after the race was over.
She still hopes to someday get into the New York City Marathon and Chicago.
'I applied, but I have not gotten in,' she said.
One of her biggest challenges came a couple of years ago at the Grandfather Mountain Marathon in Boone, N.C..
'That is one tough marathon,' she said. 'The altitude is about 6,000 feet and it is uphill and it keeps climbing.'
She also ran in the Blue Ridge Mountain Marathon in 2011.
'They say that might be the toughest marathon in the country,' she said. 'I was still pretty new to running, but was excited about getting to do it.'
One word not in her running vocabulary is training.
'I have never trained for a marathon,' she said. 'I run with a friend, Robin Osborne, and we just run. We are just people who love running. To me, it is just a part of my life, a big part of my life. If you look at it as training, then it is something that you don't look forward to doing, and I love running. It is a part of what I do.'
Nicholas Saffian rises at 5 a.m. and meets her friend to run the 10 miles before work.
After work, she often puts in six more miles or goes to the gym to use the machines.
'If you call it training, you might start to lose people,' she said. 'I think it brings more pain to you, if you call it training.'
Nicholas Saffian is proud she has never been hurt or lost interest in running.
'I have never had a reason to tell myself I don't want to do this,' she said.
Her approach to running makes her one of best ambassadors for marathons.
'I love to help people when they are running marathons for the first time,' she said. 'I don't want anybody to get discouraged and think they can't do it.'
Nicholas Saffian encountered a doctor friend who was running her first marathon in Miami earlier this year and was struggling to conquer the course and her own pain.
'I stayed with her from the start of the race to the end,' she said. 'We finished in four hours, but I stuck and talked with her all the way. She was having leg cramps and I helped massage her legs. We both got through it and finished.'
She also helped runners at the Publix Marathon and the Pittsburgh Marathon.
'I am not so worried about times,' she said. 'I have run so many marathons and seen so many things, that it is not about times. For me, now it's more about going and enjoying the experience. Now it is almost like going out there for my morning run.'
If there's a bigger goal that Nicholas Saffian has, it's seeing more minorities getting involved in long distance running.
'There are so many other sports out there,' she said. 'Many women just have never been exposed to marathon running. I just want them to know they can do it, if they want to.'
Her dedication to the sport doesn't go unnoticed.
'I remember getting a text from the father of somebody I helped a the Pittsburgh Marathon, telling me it was a blessing that I was there,' she said. 'If you tell me you want to run your first marathon, I'm your girl. I can help you.'