Laurie Bianchi started running in ninth grade after a friend encouraged her to go out for track.
“It required some coaxing because I was always the last kid picked for team sports and ALWAYS the last one to the finish in those elementary school field day 50-yard dashes,” she recalled. “But in track I learned I have amazing endurance and so I excelled at 880 and mile — back in the day it was the 880 yd and mile. I broke a lot of school records in those events.”
John Bianchi, 54, didn’t develop his love for the sport until he approached age 50. He credits his family – and a new Fitbit — for helping him to discover it.
“I always hated running, preferring other activities such as basketball, racquetball, hiking, laundry, or visiting the dentist,” he said. “My opinion of it changed a few years ago and I attribute it to three things. The first was Laurie’s persistent and patient encouragement for us to be active. The second was sharing an interest in our son Sean’s passion for running. Lastly, I had received a Fitbit a year or two before I started running and had this crazy goal of hitting 20,000 steps every day. Shortly after making this commitment, it became evident to me that walking, doing the laundry, and visiting the dentist were not going to get me there. Thus, running was an opportunity to hit this goal.”
In the past few years, both John and Laurie have competed in nearly every event of the Runabout Race Series. Laurie won the women’s 55-59 series age group in 2018 and John finished third in the men’s 50-54 division. Check their Strava profiles and you will see that when they aren’t running they are biking – and more often than not they are doing it together.
John says his wife is still his primary motivator. And Laurie, 55, says John is her inspiration to keep moving and training, even on the tough days.
“The weather can be awful outside and he’ll say, ‘C’mon! It’ll be fun!’ or maybe I’m pretty tired and he’ll say, ‘C’mon! It’ll be fun!’ And so off we’ll go on a run (or bike ride) and I’ll usually have fun! John is so positive and always encouraging.”
The Bianchis have been married for 26 years and they have a 20-year-old daughter, Leah, and an 18-year-old son, Sean. Both John and Laurie say that staying active together is at the core their relationship.
“Our friendship is based on being active so even if we are unhappy with each other, a good run, or bike ride, or hike seems to help subdue any tension,” said Laurie.
It also influences how they vacation.
“We went on a cruise 4-5 years ago; it was universally despised by the entire family,” John recalled. “Since then we have cycled as a family for vacations: we have cycled “Bike Virginia” twice; we mountain biked between Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park; and biked in Italy twice.”
Q&A with Laurie and John Bianchi
Laurie: I grew up as a kid in Colorado and New Mexico. I’ve also lived in Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida, and now Blacksburg. I consider them all home because I have such fond memories in all these places
John: Jacksonville, Florida and now Blacksburg.
Laurie: Professor and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Radford University
John: Engineer, Revivicor
You run and bike together — which do you prefer?
Laurie: I prefer running because it’s such a gratifying form of exercise for me, and I enjoy the solitude of running. But to answer what I prefer to do together, I prefer to bike with John. I am timid and clumsy in the saddle and John gives me a boost of courage that I need when biking.
John: My preference is anything with Laurie. Typically, she prefers cycling when it is warmer. However, she has motivated us to bike when it was so cold that our water bottles froze.
Any funny training/racing stories to share?
Laurie: None that don’t involve flatulence or that wouldn’t embarrass my better half.
John: I follow my brother (who lives in Florida) on STRAVA and he always uploads post-race photos of him enjoying a post-race beer. I’m not sure why, but every race he participates there’s always kegs of beer. I shared this beer concept with former Runabout Sports manager Stephen Howard and I thought it fell on deaf ears. However, when Laurie and I finished the Hell Climb up Mountain Lake, Stephen chased me down to hand me a beer. That beer, especially after the Hell Climb, was the best tasting beer of all time.
Most satisfying running accomplishment?
Laurie: 2003 Chicago Marathon. My brother and I ran it together as a tribute to my Dad. My Dad began running in his 50s and had run 23 marathons before his death in 2001. The training for a marathon is as much an accomplishment as the marathon itself.
John: Running the Hell Climb – a 10K up Virginia 613 to Mountain Lake. I’ve run that race for the past two years and there are two aspects that make it brutal. Obviously, the first is incline (2,100 feet of elevation gain) …. holy cow that’s steep. The second is the loneliness of the race … there are no spectators; nobody cheering, it’s just you against that mountain. Getting to the top is exhilarating!
Proudest race moment?
Laurie: 9th grade city track meet. During the regular season, I had beat Barbara Dalton twice in the 880 and she had beat me twice. We went out FAST – we were neck and neck the entire race until… on the last 100 yards, my legs gave out twice! I stumbled from simply giving it my all but pulled it together to continue that last sprint – I caught up to her in the last few yards but I lost by 2/100th of a second. I have never given everything I had in a race like that one. The second-place finish was painful but I was so proud of my effort.
John: Finishing the Hokie Half marathon, I never thought I could run that far. And, then, the second time I ran the Hokie Half, as I was amazed I ran it faster than the previous year.
Who (besides each other) inspires you?
Laurie: I had an amazing XC coach in high school – Kenneth Garland. He pushed us beyond limits we set for ourselves and he had so many sayings that stuck with me such as, “You have to love PAT!! Pain Agony Torture!” or “Don’t be an IF person!” – IF I had tried harder or pushed through the pain, maybe I would have placed better. Or “You must have the 3Ds! Desire, Dedication, Determination!” And my favorite, “You can do it, don’t give up, God will help you, only in America.” All of those sayings stick with me in my approach to life. The ‘Don’t be an IF person’ is the reason why I went back for a PhD in my 40s.
John: The people who I follow on STRAVA also motivate me; it’s great to see the different places that people run especially in the NRV.
Advice for new runners?
Laurie: Always remember, “You can do it, don’t give up, God (or the universe) will help you, only in America.” Be patient. Love PAT, even just a little PAT. It takes time to develop that muscle memory. It also takes a few times of running when you DON’T want to run to understand that running really does make you feel like a better, stronger person. The 3Ds are indeed essential. And I would alter my XC’s coach’s saying of Don’t be an IF person to Make sure you are asking yourself the right IF questions. Instead of what IF I don’t enjoy this race… well what IF you do enjoy it? Or, what IF I come in last (I’ve done that before and the sun still came up the next day). Well what IF you come in last but you make your spouse or children or parents or friends so proud of you that they are bursting at the seams? OR, What IF you come in last but you are so proud of yourself that YOU are bursting at the seams? What IF I am sore for a couple of days when you first begin? Well what IF you are sore but it reminds you of what you accomplished? What If you don’t enjoy running? Well what IF you do??
John: Download Strava, go to Runabout Sports for shoes, and then go for a run – immediately – in that order! Subsequently, signup for a 5k, participate in the Wednesday night pub runs (6 p.m. Runabout Sports) and then set your sights on the Runabout Race Series.
Laurie: Gate River Run 15K in Jacksonville FL – free beer at the finish and great bands along the course. It’s flat except the run over the Hart bridge. And now, having trained in the mountains of Virginia, I love passing people going up that bridge. I have fabulous memories of running this race with John and many of our Florida friends and family. Locally, my favorite is the Brush Mountain Breakdown and the Hell Climb up the road to Mountain Lake.
John: I really enjoy the Runabout Race Series and really enjoy the 7.4 mile version of the Brush Mountain Breakdown. I like the shorter race length because I can finish near the top because most of the better runners compete in the longer version (14 miles) of this race. My favorite race is the 15k River Run in Jacksonville FL; they claim 25,000 runners sign up. It’s a giant party in my old hometown – the entire course is lined with spectators with live bands every mile. The spectators not only offer the runners a lot of cheers/hoots/hollers but also doughnuts, beer, whisky, pancakes, jello shots, and such.
Any running superstitions or rituals?
Laurie: I used to race with one of my dad’s hoodies for good luck but I retired it because I didn’t want anything to happen to it.
John: MUST have Strava recording for every run and bike ride!
Suggestion for growing/improving our running community?
Laurie: I am so impressed with the work that RunAbout Sports does for this community. I’m not sure how to improve on the work they do to promote running and friendships amongst runners. It would be cool to have training days for people who are just getting started. Maybe people could sign up to be mentors/mentees.
John: Runabout Sports is a remarkable asset – buying shoes from them just does not seem like enough. I think there should be a run before the Blacksburg Brew Do, with the race finishing at the Brew Do. Running followed by beer – does it get any better than that?
Fact many people don’t know about you?
Laurie: I’m pretty passionate about good healthy food choices but I do also love to indulge in French fries, chips and salsa, tacos and chili!
John: I have 10 siblings and am the youngest. My parents wanted to create the perfect child and there was no need for further procreation after I arrived.
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Former top marathoner Michelle Lowry still running strong in Blacksburg
Lessons learned from leading a college track and cross country program at age 24
Jenn Fleming’s comeback story continues with win at Holiday Lake 50K
Blacksburg running legend Peter Dorrell helps build community
Josh Norris: Ready to take on the World Games
Thanks for sharing your stories and advice. iF will stick with me and be shared.
FYI I grew up in Pennsylvania – they also have kegs (both beer and birch beer) at the end of every race…