When Marie Schaaf describes herself as a “maniac marathon runner,” she’s not kidding around. The tattoo of the sun on her shoulder with the number 12352 is proof enough.
The number marks her standing as an official member of the Half Fanatics, a club which requires completion of at least three half-marathons in 90 days or two within a 16-day period just to join. Schaaf is one of a fraction of members to earn Sun Level status, which requires a person to complete one of the following tasks within a single year: 52 half-marathons, 30 half-marathons in 30 states or 20 half-marathons in 20 different countries.
Spurred on by a 2018 shoulder injury that led her to spend more time sewing running skirts for her friends, Schaaf is the proprietor of So-Sew Running Apparel and the owner of the brand new Dally Days storefront at 107 E. Maple St. in Centralia.
“I started the business in October of last year and it went from zero to 100 in the blink of an eye,” Schaaf said. “Most of my orders come from customers back east, so I wanted to have a storefront here. Everything is hand-sewn by me, which means I’m sewing like I used to run marathons.”
Schaaf, who moved to Chehalis from Seattle in 2000, earned her tattoo by finishing 54 half-marathons and six full marathons for a total of 864.6 miles, despite undergoing double hip replacement surgery in 2016. She laughed Thursday as she recalled her doctor trying to dissuade her from resuming her running career.
Schaaf did not pick up running as a hobby until well into her adult years. At age 49, she ran her first half-marathon a few years ago in Rochester. It didn’t take long before she was fully hooked on the feat of physical and mental endurance.
“When I volunteer at races, I like to be at aid stations around mile 23,” Schaaf said. “I can look someone in the eye there and know what they need to keep going.”
Speed is not what drives Schaaf to either run or volunteer at marathon events across the country throughout the year. Finishing the race is more important than straining to earn a certain place — she finished 618th out of 645 female entrants in the 2015 Seattle Marathon.
Schaaf subscribes to the run-walk-run method of marathon training developed by Jeff Galloway in 1976 to encourage more runners to enjoy long-distance pursuits while cutting down on the risk for injury. Schaaf found that using the Galloway method led to less wear and tear on her body.
“With Marie, there’s no room for failure, and I mean that in a really good way,” said Traci Koenig, a friend of Schaaf’s who helps with the business. “With her, we’re going to get it done and that’s the way it is. She’s a huge supporter, doesn’t leave people behind, and makes sure you keep yourself hydrated and fueled to keep going.”
Koenig holds a full-time job outside of So-Sew Running Apparel, but jumped at the chance to join the effort after a work-related move last year brought her back to the area. She ran her first marathon in 2015 in Honolulu, one of many trips the pair have taken as part of the larger marathon community.
The skirts themselves are created using a variety of colorful patterns and include pockets suggested by fellow runners when Schaaf first began her business. The store also stocks runner-friendly apparel such as sunglasses, headbands and tank tops that lend support to the philosophy that running can be fun for anyone, regardless of athletic ability or physical condition.
Most of the sewing takes place on the second floor of Schaaf’s home, though she keeps the machine in the store plenty busy. She’s had to retire more than one sewing machine because the motor wore out.
As her business becomes more of a presence in downtown Centralia, Schaaf hopes her experiences can benefit other members of the local running community. Competitive and recreational athletes alike seek her out for advice on how to complete daunting challenges like the Seattle Quadzilla — four marathons in four consecutive days.
“I’m an all-in kind of person,” Schaaf said. “I do nothing halfway. I’m going to give it my all, no matter what I’m doing.”