- Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2014

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - All the “stupidness” started in 2012, Stephan Looney recalled with a smile.

Looney wasn’t exactly new to running at the time. He was logging maybe five miles a week. Then he met Chris Leslie, who challenged him to run a 50K.

That’s roughly 31 miles.

“I told him, ‘You’re crazy. I’ll do it,’” Looney said. “I had from January to July to train. That year, I did my first half marathon, my first marathon and my first 50K.”

That was the start of a hobby that has since garnered for Looney ongoing attention from Nike Running and Twitter followers from around the globe.

Nike Running, which offers a smartphone app that uses satellite locators to log runners’ mileage, has a Twitter presence with hundreds of thousands of followers. But as of last week it followed just 225 people, and Looney is one of them.

Looney started logging serious mileage and became Nike Running’s “Runner of the Week” in November 2012.

“They send you a shirt and put your face up on their Twitter page,” Looney said. “Then they keep in touch. They want to know, ‘What are you doing that’s stupid today?’”

When he logged 3,000 miles and reached “Nike Black Level,” Nike sent him a watch with the date of that accomplishment, 6/14/2013. When he took some time off after doing too many heavy distance races back-to-back, Nike asked him what was up.

He’s watched, and through Nike’s attention, Looney (whose Twitter handle is @ablinkin) has gotten more than 1,500 Twitter followers from throughout the United States and places like Italy, Norway and Australia.

He tweets about everything from training experiences to cold weather gear to highenergy, vegetarian meals. And his positive, contagious vibe has been influential in rounding up a group of runners - about 20 who are local and others international - who are committed to running 2,014 miles in 2014. “2014 in 2014,” as they say.

“It’s really neat that people from all over the world are getting into it and digging it,” he said.

Running is both a great way to meet people and a great way to get some peace and quiet, said Looney, 35, who in a past life was a smoker and once weighed in at 250 pounds.

For him, running started out as a challenge and has become an outlet.

“It’s about the serenity,” he said. “You meet a lot of people through running, so there’s a social aspect to it, and there’s peace and solitude as well. When you’re running, you don’t have to be or do anything and can just be in that moment. … I’m a geek by profession. I’m a software engineer, and my workday is hyper-focused and multi-task oriented.”

Running allows him to zone out for a while.

Along with working and running, Looney is husband to wife Cyndi and father to 13-year-old Ian, a Boy Scout with whom he spent a recent snowy weekend at Carter Caves, Ky.

Cyndi takes his running in stride, Looney said.

“She’s gotten used to it,” he said. “I’m slow, so I take a lot of time (for high-mileage) runs. Three hours is a good chunk of your day gone, but she’s supportive.”

She and Ian even went to cheer him on in the land of the bugs and ‘gators for the Swamp Stomp 50Mile race last year near Charleston, S.C. He placed sixth.

That’s one that Looney wants to win sometime. He has that race on the agenda this year, along with the Haulin’ in the Holler 50K in Putnam County, and to try his first 100-mile race.

Trail running is his favorite way to go. His favorite local trails are at Barboursville Park, the Ritter Park trail that connects to the PATH at Harveytown, and a 30-mile Kanawha Trace trail that is available to the Boy Scouts community.

Zach Beckett of Ona is a longtime friend of Looney’s who works as a Huntington Realtor and as founder of New River Running, a trail running guide service in the New River Gorge National River area.

“I think his attitude toward running is a great thing and vital for the community,” Beckett said. “It’s runner spirit to be passionate and share in the enjoyment of it with others. It’s a very positive thing and it transpires into the community.”

Beckett said he relates well with trail runners like Looney.

“We spend hours upon hours in the woods on trails, and that reflects directly through the individual,” Beckett said. “Trail runners have a tendency to be very thoughtful and accepting. I believe it has something to do with time spent alone or with a few people that you care a lot about. This type of person, like Stephan, is essential within a community.”


Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, https://www.herald-dispatch.com

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