By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon Education College of Humanities and Social Sciences Curriculum Developer Ruth Douthitt doesn’t run just to log in the miles.
She drinks in the quiet. Loves the brush of the wind against her hair. The chirps of the birds. The whir of the early morning. The buzz of the late afternoon.
It’s how she resets her clock.
But she didn’t want to run at all after her sister, Tammie, died.
Tammie fought stage 4 liver and colon cancer. For a year. And in October 2015, she succumbed to the disease.
Douthitt was scheduled to run in a race at Lake Powell in Page, Ariz., soon afterward, though her heart just wasn’t in it. Everyone told her that her sister would have wanted it; she knew how much Douthitt loved to run.
“As I crossed the finish line, I felt renewed,” writes Douthitt, whose story about that Lake Powell run, called “Storms and Strength,” is included in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Running for Good – 101 Stories for Runners & Walkers to Get You Going!”
It is one of two inspiring stories written by Douthitt that make up the recently released collection. The 101 stories are presented by Chicken Soup for the Soul and renowned ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes, who once ran 350 continuous miles and has completed 50 marathons in all 50 states in 50 consecutive days.
“The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other can transform individuals; it can transform lives,” Karnazes writes in the book’s introduction.
Douthitt, who works with Grand Canyon University to write the courses that Humanities students take, ran cross country through college.
But it wasn’t until she was 40 that she started racing competitively again.
Her husband piped up one day that they should run a marathon. So they did.
“He’s not a runner; he did one marathon,” Douthitt said with a smile, though after that first 26-mile run, she wasn’t too eager to test her endurance again: “I said, ‘Well, that’s my last marathon.’”
In the 12 years since, Douthitt has run six full marathons and four ultramarathons (the most popular ultramarathon distances are 50 and 100 miles) — something she might not have done without the support of her husband.
“Now I LOVE doing races,” she said.
She tries to enter one race a year to keep her focused, and you can find her about four times a week running along the Arizona Canal. She hits her running route by 4 a.m. to try to beat the relentless heat of the Arizona summer months or moves inside on the treadmills if the heat is too much. She’ll run after work, too – whenever she can make time for it.
“It’s a challenge,” she said of conquering a 26.2-mile marathon. “But it’s also therapeutic while I’m running. I’m doing a document dump.”
She makes time, too, for her creative passions.
Besides being a runner, Douthitt is an artist known on campus for helping co-workers organize the first Curriculum Design and Development Art Show in January. Although Douthitt’s master’s degree is in education, her bachelor’s degree is in art. She contributed acrylic paintings of a wolf and a sunset to the Curriculum Design and Development show and has exhibited her work at galleries in New Bern, N.C., as well as locally in Scottsdale.
Her creativity doesn’t stop there.
She also is a Christian author who has written 11 books for middle schoolers, including her “The Dragon Forest” series, about a prince who longs for adventure and decides to follow the royal knights into the forest to find and kill the dragon for its scales; “The Children Under the Ice,” about 12-year-old crime-solver Mikey; and her latest, “The Cafeteria Club,” about a group of friends who start a club in their middle school to combat bullying.
Douthitt, who was a middle school writing teacher for a time, found it interesting when some of her own students started reading her books.
“It was scary … to see my target audience read them; it mortified me,” she said with a laugh.
But it also would brighten her day when a student would ask her to autograph a book for them or when she would hear them whisper to each other, “She’s the one who wrote that book!” A former student of hers who wants to become an author has been in contact with her, she said, asking her, “How do you go about doing this?”
She’s thrilled that two of her passions – writing and running – converged in this one Chicken Soup for the Soul project.
When Douthitt was checking the Chicken Soup for the Soul website, she saw a call for entries for stories about running.
“I’ve got dozens of them,” she thought, and so she submitted the story about her sister and the Lake Powell marathon.
“That was spiritual and personal for me,” she said.
She also submitted “Gold Star Day,” when Douthitt ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., a race so big its runners have to be chosen by lottery. She’s from a Marine Corps family – her father, husband and uncle have served as Marines — so for her, “that was the big race,” not the Boston or New York City marathons. Known as “The People’s Marathon,” the race is famous because civilians get to run among Marines, and a Marine Corps officer places the medal around your neck at the finish.
“I grew up hearing the Marine stories,” she said, and now she has one of her own to tell.
“Chicken Soup for the Soul: Running for Good” tells so many other stories, about runners who have lost 100 or 200 pounds or more, who have conquered depression or anxiety, or who have bonded with their children by running races together.
Douthitt continues to run several times a week and is busy working on her first contemporary romance for adults, set for release in the fall. She said she would love to start a GCU running club — though, when she’s setting her pace along the Arizona Canal, she’s already taking communion with so many other people like her who love to run: “This is a running city; you’re never alone.”
Follow GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 602-639-7901.