Run Local Spotlight: Mayor Steve Schewel

Steve and his brother Mike at the Monument Ave 10K!

Did you know that the Mayor of Durham is a runner, and a good one at that?! We sat down with Mayor Schewel in his office at City Hall and talked all things running and mayoring. Enjoy!

Running and Being the Mayor: A Balancing Act

I was first and foremost interested to know Mayor Schewel’s trade secrets for maintaining an optimal work/life/training balance. Steve was quick to admit that maintaining a routine is difficult for him. Since no two work days for the mayor of our fair city are the same, he plans his runs around his daily schedule, and allows himself the grace and flexibility to switch things around as needed.

For Steve, a solid week of training includes 3-4 days of running on his go-to neighborhood routes, which include a 3.5-mile jaunt utilizing the iconic Duke’s East Campus loop for shorter days, and a 5.5-mile tour of the Ellerbee Creek Trail when time permits for longer runs. Steve prefers to run in the morning before he starts his workday, particularly this time of year when morning temperatures are comfortable.

Steve & Team Liz at the
Angels Among Us 5K!

Where Running and Mayor-ing Intersect

With a firm grasp on Steve’s training routine, I was interested to know if there was any overlap in his running life and his work as Mayor. He shared that his favorite way these two things intersect is the annual Wellness Challenge he issues to his staff at City Hall. Each fall, Mayor Schewel challenges his team to train for and complete a 5-mile run on the American Tobacco Trail. All who participate can earn discounts on their health insurance premiums. The group, usually 50+ strong, completes the run together and afterwards Steve treats them all to the beverage of their choice at Tyler’s Taproom. It’s one of the Mayor’s most anticipated work AND running events of the year!

Where the Mayor Runs Local

In addition to his go-to East Campus and Ellerbee Creek loops, Steve loves to log miles on Durham’s various greenways and trail systems. He cited the Third Fork Creek Trail and the trails of Duke Forest among his preferred destinations, and named the American Tobacco Trail as his number one because of the wonderful way that it connects diverse neighborhoods in our city and makes outdoor fitness and bicycle commuting accessible for many Durham residents. Here at Bull City Running Co., we agree that the ATT is awesome for all those reasons!

Steve doesn’t stop at training on local trails! He also enjoys the “thrill of a crowd full of familiar faces, passing familiar scenery, and struggling up familiar hills” at local races. He participates in local race events regularly and regularly places in his age group! (He says it’s because he is getting older and the number of people in his age group is diminishing, but we know he’s just being modest.) Some of his favorite not-to-be-missed races include the Bull City Race Fest Half Marathon and 5 Miler, the Florence Forth 10K, and The Great Human Race 5K.

The Mayor of Durham
is a Boston Qualifier!

A Boston Qualifier!
Anytime Steve toes the line at a race he aspires to place in his age group and he takes great pride in his hard-earned race bling. (So much so that when I asked him what his most valued piece of must-have running gear was, he pondered it briefly and then replied “that hanger-thing for displaying medals and race bibs!”)

Steve’s proudest and most memorable running moment came at the 2015 Tobacco Road Marathon. He had set the lofty goal of running a Boston Qualifying time at this race. At the time, the standard for his age group was 4:10. Steve went out with the 4:10 pace group and hung with them until mile 18. But then, as marathoners at mile 18 sometimes do, he began to struggle and falter. He dug deep and fought to keep the pace group in his sight as the miles wore on, and he knew he was cutting time the goal incredibly close as the finish line grew gloriously closer. He felt completely spent as he entered the baseball park where the race finishes and seriously considered walking it in for the last few hundred meters. But as he approached the final descent into the finish, a spry “young lady” scampered by him with a grace and ease that ignited his competitive spirit despite his exhaustion. “I HAVE TO GET HER!” he exclaimed! “If she can still find the energy to speed into the chute, then I can too!” (I’m not sure if he actually verbalized those words at race, but he certainly spoke them with gusto and enthusiasm when he gave me this account in his office.) And then he did it! He found a new reserve of energy to chase down that “young lady” and crossed the finish line in 4:09:42, earning the BQ with only 17 seconds to spare!

Steve rang the PR Bell so hard it fell over!

I imagine that many of you are familiar with the “PR Bell” that runners can ring at the finish of Tobacco Road to celebrate new personal bests. Steve rang that PR bell with so much vigor and enthusiasm that it fell off its perch and right onto him!

Steve’s Running “Why”

Steve’s passion for running and for Durham was abundantly evident throughout our conversation, but I wanted to know more about the origins of his relationship with running and what or who inspired it. He shared with me that his original athletic love was basketball, but he found as he got older he was frequently sidelined with aches, pains, and injuries. Running seemed like a kinder, gentler exercise alternative, given its steady sustained efforts and general lack of lateral movement. So, at the ripe age of 50, Steve embraced running as his primary means of exercise. Now 68, he has completed 4 marathons, plus numerous half marathons, 10 milers, and shorter distance races.

Steve’s running buddy and good friend Ken Soo has been his weekend long run partner and race travel companion for most of his running career. Steve and Ken still hold each other accountable for putting in their weekly long run miles so long as both of them are healthy and injury-free.

Steve appreciates how running and racing foster persistence and perseverance through difficulty and discomfort to reach big goals. He has found this theme to be applicable to both his work as Mayor and to life in general. He also wisely points out that marathons are challenging and painful. The fact that he has completed 4 of them reminds him that he can do many other difficult things too.

In Conclusion

The mayor of Durham is an athlete and lovely person who truly gets the benefits the running lifestyle, the thrill and satisfaction of chasing big goals through training and racing, and the wonderful sense of comradery and community that bonds us as runners across paces and abilities. We salute his commitment to balancing running and self-care with a demanding work life, appreciate all the effort and positive energy he brings to our local running community and to our city. We also wish him well as he pursues his next big running goal, The Virginia 10 Miler, a September race in his hometown of Lynchburg, VA.

Steve, thank you for your service to our great city and for taking the time to share your running journey with us!

Interview by Ellen Moss
Bull City Running’s Director of Community Engagement