Jackie Pirtle-Hall won her third GO! St. Louis Marathon in April and, thanks to a 2:44:18 finish, qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials for the second time. We recently talked with the 36-year-old about her lifelong love of running and where she finds inspiration.

When did you start running?

I started running in the fifth grade. I’d played about every sport imaginable for a short time, and running was the last sport I chose. I had to convince my parents to let me join the St. Charles Cyclones running club, and I’m glad they did. Since then, I’ve never really considered not running.

And you were a natural, right?

No! In my first race, I threw up, passed out, got back up, went the wrong way and came in last. But, even then, I knew I wanted to keep going and try to get better.

That’s want running is about. You have to have talent, sure, but you need to be dedicated. When you show up day after day after day, that’s when you improve. You build that aerobic engine.

When did things start to click for you?

I really started running correctly after college, staying healthy and training consistently. I think when I got my coach, Sheldon Webster, things changed. He has coached me from being a baby runner until now.

I’m also a student of my sport. I nerd out on running. I read everything I can. It’s a little weird, really. But I have to have balance and fun in the equation, too.

Where does that balance and fun come from?

Lisa Cary and I co-founded the group Runnababez in 2012 because we felt our area was missing an uplifting yet competitive outlet for women who still wanted to run fast and compete after college. They’re the reason I’m still running.

You know, motivation ebbs and flows. When I try to identify the turning point, I realize it’s usually just a few runs with my girls. We help each other and understand each other, wherever we are in our lives. Someone in the group is always excited, and that’s contagious.

Which of your GO! wins is most memorable?

I’d say that 2012 was really memorable. It was the culmination of a three- or four-year build. It was after the U.S. Olympic Trials, and so I took that experience and just kept going. It was sunny, I was fit and everything kind of fell in place. I remember smiling so big as I crossed the finish line.

And winning this year?

It was a feeling of visceral joy. I can still feel it.

A lot of people say to me, “You put so much time and effort into training, is it worth it?” And I say, “Just wait, I’m going to get a lot of good joy out of it.” I can feed off one feeling for six months.

I love the quote: If it weren’t hard, everyone would do it. We look for something we’re good at that inspires others, and this is my thing. Don’t sacrifice the gift.

Tell us about running in the Olympic Trials.

The last time, in 2012, it was all about lining up next to my running idols. I felt a little like and outsider, even though I ended up finishing in the middle. It’s a small field, less than 200, and everybody is fast.

In 2020, the trials will be Atlanta. I’d like to do better, but no pressure — as long as I’m having fun. A change this year is that whatever perks the top dogs get, everyone gets. So, that will be exciting.

What’s your favorite race to run?

I love GO! because it’s home and I get a lot back from that hometown feel and the people and family who are there. I also like MO’ Cowbell for the same reason. It’s a smaller scene, and it’s right down the street.

Where do you like to train?

I like the Katy Trail. There are sections of it that are so peaceful, and the surface is mostly flat and fast. But I do love a good Forest Park run, too. It’s the trees and the foliage. It feels safe and uplifting. And there are so many running groups and people being active there, I always leave super-fulfilled.

Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.