Kevin Byrd: ‘The journey is so much fun’

Kevin finishes the 2020 Richmond Marathon with his daughter Ella. “Without a doubt” his proudest race accomplishment.

Kevin Byrd is a case study in how consistent training — with regular group runs and a dose of speed work mixed in — can help you get faster. 

One proof point: comparing his last two Hokie Half Marathons times. In 2019, he ran the Hokie Half in 1:44 (7:52 per mile). A year later, he ran the Hokie Half (virtual edition) in 1:29 (6:51 per mile).

“I didn’t see that performance coming, especially since it was a solo virtual race during COVID,” he said.

That improvement motivated him more — and the race results keep improving.

He shattered his goal of running sub-20 minutes at the Sundown 5K in June, finishing in 19:03 (a post-high school 5K PR!). And then he ran a blazing 5:03 at the Draper Mile earlier this month. 

His next goal: A strong race in November at the Richmond Marathon. Kevin calls it his first “real” marathon, but he’s covered the distance before, at the 2020 (COVID-version) Richmond Marathon.

 “I ran it last year on their chip-timed alternative course, the Virginia Capital Trail. It was quite the challenge going at it solo!” he said. “After going out too fast and hitting the wall, I really want to figure out the marathon distance.”

It’s a good bet this year will be different.

“I’m looking forward to an experience with other runners, a pace group, and people along the streets,” he said. “Perhaps most importantly, I have a real training plan this time around — thanks Michelle Lowry! I have a goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon and I feel like there’s a lot to do before then, so we’ll see how this upcoming training cycle progresses.”

Kevin would love to complete his first ultra in 2022 but he’s also quick to add that running isn’t just about races and results — it’s the community and camaraderie that motivates him to get out the door.

“I’ll keep leaning on the NRV running community for advice, put the time in and see what happens! I can honestly say, the journey is so much fun!,” he says. 

Kevin Byrd | Age 43

Kevin catches a nice one during an August fishing trip on the Gunnison River in Colorado.

Hometown: Born in Charlotte, N.C., and grew up mostly in Cary, N.C.; now lives in Blacksburg.

What brought you to the NRV? I came to Virginia Tech for graduate school in Urban and Regional Planning in 2002. When I finished in ’04 I moved to Asheville, NC with a desire to be back in the mountains of my home state. I lived there for a little under two years before returning to the New River Valley for a job opportunity, and it was a quality of life move at the same time. My undergraduate degree is in Recreation Management from Appalachian State, which helped me develop an appreciation for all the outdoor recreation available in the New River Valley. Within a stone’s throw, we have the New River, the Appalachian Trail, trout streams and so many other amazing assets. 

Occupation: Executive Director, New River Valley Regional Commission

When/how did you start running? I grew up playing a lot of soccer. At one point I was playing on three teams at once and I got burned out, so I switched to cross country my junior year of high school. Since high school I would run a 5K every so often, then in 2016 I ran my first half marathon, the Hokie Half. I’ve run in that race every year since. In 2010 I wrote down a series of life goals and I had “run a marathon” on the list. I didn’t think much about it or work on it seriously until a little over two years ago. 

Why do you run? Initially, it was something I did that came easy to me after playing soccer for so many years. More recently after going through separation/divorce it has served as the perfect avenue for physical and mental health. Each run provides accomplishment and progress, even if it didn’t go as anticipated. We all need that type of positive feedback loop regardless of what we’re going through. Also, the people in the NRV running community are great to be around. I always look forward to catching up with folks during a run. 

Most satisfying running accomplishment? I’d say comparing my Hokie Half Marathon times from 2019 to 2020. In one year, I dropped my time just over 15 minutes with sub-7:00 splits for all but three miles. Looking back at those splits though, they were all over the place! The next most satisfying accomplishment will be running with some consistency Lol! 

Proudest race moment? Without a doubt, running across the finish line hand-in-hand with my daughter, Ella, at the Richmond Marathon last year. My eyes still tear-up thinking about it. It was a long sought-after goal that was delayed even further because I had to defer my 2019 entry due to an IT band injury. I STRUGGLED the last several miles with cramping, and Ella ran/walked alongside me. She was a constant cheerleader encouraging me, reading signs posted in the ground along the route and truly helped me accomplish my goal. My parents were there too helping with water bottle drops, so sharing the experience really meant a lot. 

Favorite workout? Lately I’ve enjoyed Track Tuesday quite a bit, although I wouldn’t have said that too long ago. I didn’t get into speed workouts until the past year or so. As I’ve done them more consistently, I’ve had fewer injuries and my times have dropped considerably. Also, I always look forward to the Wednesday night Pub Run 7-mile loop. There’s great comradery each week and you never know where the conversation will lead! 

Favorite places to run? Any time I travel for work I pack my running shoes and hit the streets or trail as soon as I arrive. That’s my favorite way to experience a new place. Around the NRV, it’s hard to beat the gem that is the Pandapas Pond trails or logging miles along the New River Trail. I don’t know how many times Skip Slocum and I have run together remarking how fortunate we are to have great trails in such close proximity. 

Advice for new runners? Two words, group runs! I ran solo for so many years, would train for the Hokie Half, get injured and repeat. After Erik Olsen’s consistent invites to run with the Blacksburg Striders on Mondays/Saturdays and going to Pub Runs at RunAbout Sports on Wednesdays, I’ve been able to learn a lot and made some excellent friends along the way. Running with other people has certainly helped me climb the learning curve. Also, I recommend volunteering at races, it’s a great way to support the running community. 

Roads or Trails? Both! Roads because it’s easy to do regularly and I love spending time on the Huckleberry Trail, but my favorite is a long trail run. 

Hobbies beyond running? Fly fishing, biking, hunting, golf, camping, traveling, and spending time with friends. So many hobbies, such little time!

Any running superstitions or rituals? The night before a race I’ll visualize the course, think through the inevitable discomfort, reflect on successful training runs that will help in those tough spots and generally go into a race feeling comfortable, although always nervous.  

Favorite gear? Being a bald guy, I have to say my yellow Richmond Marathon hat! Also, the Hoka Speedgoat trail shoes are solid. 

Suggestion for growing our running community? Continue to build the online/social media presence. New people are constantly coming into the community and that helps folks know what is happening each week. 

Favorite pre-run fuel (snack or meal)? I’m still trying to figure that one out! Lately it has been a lemon Larabar about an hour beforehand. 

Favorite post-run recovery/reward meal? After a long run, the chocolate Tailwind recovery drink is my favorite. I mix it ahead of time and bring it along with an ice pack. It’s like cold chocolate milk afterward. 

Fact many people don’t know about you? I’m a fan of salty snacks. Cheese-itz Reduced Fat are the best and I won’t turn down kettle chips either! 

You might also enjoy these stories:

Running fast and up front at age 57. Meet Trish Richardson

105 racers started the Looking Glass 50 miler. Just 63 finished. Emily Hutchins was 1 of them.

Former top marathoner Michelle Lowry still running strong in Blacksburg

Jordan Chang shares his passion for running and community.

A thank you to James Demarco and Runabout Sports

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s