'So, You're A Runner?' Pickup Line Leads To Marriage, And 45 Marathons

There's only a handful of runners in Lingle, Wyoming. And two of them are married to each other, because in 2002, Joe Wilson worked up the nerve to ask AnnMarie if she was into running. Now they've done multiple Boston Marathons and last month did the famed New York City Marathon.

CM
Clair McFarland

December 24, 202313 min read

Joe and AnnMarie Wilson have run 45 marathons while raising their four children, because Joe worked up the nerve to ask AnnMarie if she was into running back in 2002.
Joe and AnnMarie Wilson have run 45 marathons while raising their four children, because Joe worked up the nerve to ask AnnMarie if she was into running back in 2002. (Courtesy Joe and AnnMarie Wilson)

A Wyoming boy attending Weber State University in 2002 figured he could intrigue a girl from his physiology class by asking her to run a 26-mile relay race with him and his buddies.  

Amazingly, it worked.  

“It was pretty smooth, I must say,” said Joe Wilson of Lingle, Wyoming, as he reflected on his ploy.  

A new convert from soccer to distance running, AnnMarie Valentine didn’t rock her leg of the relay marathon. But she enjoyed the sport and kept training. She married Joe Wilson two years later and they had four children, two boys now ages 17 and 15, and two girls ages 11 and 7.  

They moved to Cokeville in 2007, then to Goshen County three years later, where they’re some of the only people passionate enough, or crazy enough, to carve rogue loops onto the plains.   

BOOM 

Running can get dodgy anywhere, but especially in Lingle.  

One day this past summer, the pair missed their chance to run in the morning since they both stay busy with work. Joe runs a small construction business and AnnMarie is a nurse practitioner.  

They decided to run a couple quick miles that evening at about 8:30.  

Lightning surrounded them when they reached their turnaround point. Thunder boomed.   

“I’ve run in lighting before – not safe I know – and I’ve kind of just kept an eye on it and been a little unsettled,” said AnnMarie. But this was different.  

So different, the spooked couple ran for shelter toward a new neighbor’s house. 

The neighbor man was out letting his dogs out “or something,” and was startled by two figures walking up on him in the dark through intermittent lightning flashes.  

“Can you give us a ride home, please? The lightning is closer than we thought,” they said, AnnMarie recalled in her later interview.  

Reflecting on it, she laughed: “I’m certain he thought we were the stupidest people in the world. … I think we were lucky he didn’t shoot us.”  

It was an awkward ride in the neighbor’s car, but they were grateful to get home.    

Watch The Eyeballs 

Then there’s winter.  

The 2022-23 winter brought the heaviest snow the Wilsons have weathered since moving to Lingle, AnnMarie said.  

She and Joe are stubborn about running outside. They scorn treadmills.  

So they went outside, minced their steps on the ice and shuffled through snow. Most oncoming drivers on the scarce-traveled highway near the Wilsons’ home shifted toward the center to dodge them. But when they couldn’t – or didn’t – the Wilsons hopped into the icy barrow ditch and hoped they didn’t slip.   

Winter running is “not as bad as people think it is,” AnnMarie said. “A lot of it has to do with wearing the right gear” like good gloves, ear coverings – facial coverings for any weather below 15 degrees.  

But there’s no overcoming the stray winds’ ire. They pelt the Wilsons’ eyeballs with horizontal snowflakes.  

That Punk Horse 

Another timeless Wyoming figure who likes to drive runners into barrow ditches is some stray horse with an attitude.  

Fortunately for AnnMarie, that debacle happened in the summer when there was no ice to drop her and shatter her trust in her own feet.    

She was running alone, which she does sometimes to gather her thoughts, AnnMarie said. (Though chatting and running with a husband is nice too, she added.)  

While 10 miles from home, she spotted a horse across the road and assumed there was a fence between him and her. But there wasn’t.  

The horse charged her, driving her off the road and only stopping when it reached the shoulder.   

“I darted into the barrow pit,” she said. “There was nowhere to hide except a telephone pole.” 

She stood behind the pole, her breath racing. The horse looked at AnnMarie. AnnMarie snuck a glance at the horse.  

Then the horse bolted away down the road, running for about a mile before veering off into a field.  

“I’ve never seen an aggressive horse like that,” she said. “I did feel lucky that day.”  

Joe and AnnMarie Wilson after a recent marathon.
Joe and AnnMarie Wilson after a recent marathon. (Courtesy Joe and AnnMarie Wilson)

The Long Haul 

The Wilsons train and travel for marathons, but there’s nothing even close to a marathon in Lingle.  

They’ve run the Boston Marathon multiple times. They’re regulars – and champions – at the Monument Marathon in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Joe has run 28 marathons and AnnMarie has run 17.   

Joe Wilson ran the Chicago Marathon in 2007 during a heat wave, and participated in the 2004 Olympic Trials, where he put up his best time of 2 hours, 21 minutes.

“But that was a magical day when everything just kind of came together,” he said.  

AnnMarie’s best marathon time is 3:02:48.  

Though she was hesitant to announce it publicly and intensify the pressure, she’s shooting to crack the 3-hour threshold at the Chicago Marathon next October.   

Wyoming Meets Uber 

When the Wilsons ran the New York Marathon for the first time Nov. 5, getting to the race was its own odyssey.  

They slept the night before in a bed meant for one person in an Airbnb in New Jersey. The weary mattress buckled, wedging them into its sunken middle. Joe Wilson’s nerves kept him awake too.  

New York is not like Lingle, where a man decides to pick up his kids from school, hops into his truck and does it. The weekend was a saga of subway lines, bus fares, misdirection and glowering drivers.

They enjoyed the tourist attractions; they fought the logistics.  

On the morning of the race, the Wilsons decided to book an Uber driver. They met him before dawn in a dark alley near their Airbnb.  

It was an epiphany. 

“Best decision we made all weekend,” said AnnMarie.  

His English wasn’t as good as his driving, and the Uber driver puzzled over why two country runners would want a ride to the MetLife stadium at 5:30 on a November morning.  

But then he saw the long line of buses and cars leading to the stadium.  

‘Run Right In Front Of Me’ 

Race administrators segregated everyone by ability into massive areas each about the size of a Wyoming high school campus, and into color-coded vests. The tens of thousands of racers would start in waves depending on how quickly they could run.  

“They bring you to the start line by bib color, and away you go,” said Joe. “And it’s just constant – constant people the entire way.”  

The Boston Marathon barricades its spectators off the raceway. But not New York. No, New York lets them press against the raceway and trot across it.  

“I must have had a sign that said, ‘Run right in front of me,’” said Joe with a laugh. “So, I’m trying to not run over this poor lady or child.” 

That was the flavor of the marathon, he added. “I took it all in and took it all in stride. Iconic is the best word I can use to describe it.”  

The Furious Flow 

Footraces pit people against each other. But, unique from other trials, they also unite people in a rush of both misery and elation, in the fight and flow toward one shared goal.  

The New York Marathon had 51,454 finishers.  

“Once the gun goes off, we’re all just kind of, of one mind. And everyone works together to get to 26.2 (miles),” said Joe.  

Elating, yes. Miserable – also yes.  

It wasn’t the best marathon for either Wilson. Joe ran it in 3:32 – 13 minutes slower than a race he’d run just two months earlier.  

AnnMarie ran it in 3:26, a cautious pace for her. 

Everything was off that weekend, they said. AnnMarie had been battling a minor hip injury and low iron for weeks. Joe had just run 49 miles of trail through the Grand Canyon with a friend in early October.  

And yet, they both placed near the top. Joe, who is 47 years old, took 1,330 out of 28,443 men and 125th in his age group out of 3,503. He placed 1,431 overall.  

AnnMarie, who is 41, took 802nd out of 22,813 women and placed 101st in her age group out of 3,089. She placed 4,848 overall, according to the race results.  

This Is Where I End 

Joe described this and all marathons as calculating when to fall apart. 

“The last 3 miles of almost every marathon, there’s an overwhelming sense that you, just physically, you’re done. Your body is depleted,” he said.  

The calves and lower back wail, silently. Fatigue and soreness feed each other in a linear climb.  

“The trick is to judge your pace, your effort, your in-race fueling ... so that you crash right at the finish line,” said Joe.  

AnnMarie agreed that there’s a component of calculating when to fail. And it’s full of second-guessing.  

“You’re a little bummed or disappointed when you get to the finish line and feel like you had more to give,” she said. “But you definitely don’t want to hit the wall any earlier than the finish line.” 

Serendipity is fickle here. AnnMarie described the perfect race as a surprise, almost a miracle. 

“Those days when you hit your goal, you won, and it all came together – sometimes it just happens – you feel like a million bucks,” she said. 

Joe and AnnMarie Wilson have are serious about going the distance, with each other and on the pavement as marathoners.
Joe and AnnMarie Wilson have are serious about going the distance, with each other and on the pavement as marathoners. (Courtesy Joe and AnnMarie Wilson)

5-And-A-Half Feet, Three Decades In 

The Wilsons took different paths into this sport.  

Joe ran track in junior high, just like “most everyone.” And he wasn’t bad.  

In high school he still wanted to play basketball and football. But he stopped growing at 5-foot-7.  

“There’s not really a future for a skill-sport, 5-foot-7 athlete,” he said. “And at the same time, I had a fair amount of success running as a freshman, sophomore – and the light came on: ‘If I’m willing to work hard at this, I could be quite good.’ It was just a decision I made.”  

He was quite good. He ran in college at Weber, then dabbled in semiprofessional racing with a couple minor sponsorships.  

Very minor, he added.  

“I got stuff from Adidas, but I was never, like, on a billboard for them,” Joe said. “I got training gear, but if you entered Adidas headquarters, they had no idea who I was.” 

Even after more than three decades of kicking the earth, Joe hasn’t had to battle back any serious injuries. Some nagging aches do creep in, though.  

“I have discovered that I have to incorporate the whole-picture health,” he said. He and AnnMarie are giving each other personal training memberships for Christmas this year.  

Running is linear. Runners tend to have weakened or tensed tendons on the sides of their bodies. Their tight hip flexors beg for a break – or maybe a waltz to soften the strain.  

Runners gravitate toward the adventure and dopamine rush of their natural, lifeline sport and avoid other, less elegant forms of training.  

But Joe Wilson said it’s time to cross train.  

“It’s going to be, run less, and cross train more so we can continue to run,” he said.  

Joe set a course record in 2019 at the Monument Marathon in Scottsbluff at 2:44, at age 43. He’s run that one six times.  

AnnMarie has run it five times and has held the course record twice.  

Joe said the “young bucks” in Nebraska “blow my doors off in the 5 (kilometer).” But he can still best them in the marathon.  

“I’m competitive enough that I want to be that old fast guy,” he said.  

I Can Do This 

AnnMarie fell gradually into running, before and after having four children.  

She dabbled in it her senior year in high school, then in college, then as a mother. She didn’t get serious about running marathons until about 2019, when her friend Heidi’s love of the sport spread to her. That year, Joe bought AnnMarie a run-tracking watch as well – an echo of their college days when he’d help her plan out her training, her route and her pace ahead of a big race.  

But AnnMarie grew up playing soccer, which is running … with a ball.  

Her senior year in high school, the cross-country coach recruited her to run cross-country, during the autumn soccer season. So she did both.  

“I think I was the only one who took the bait,” she said, remembering the running coach going around trying to poach soccer players.  

After high school, AnnMarie went to the St. George Marathon in Utah to cheer on a friend. And after watching her friend finish, she thought, “I can do this too.”  

‘So, You’re A Runner?’ 

The next year she registered for the St. George Marathon. But first, she had to research it.  

She browsed the St. George Marathon website on a computer in the tech lab at Weber State University.  

A Wyoming boy she recognized from her physiology class spotted the open website window and approached her.  

Because it was 2002, he had to break the ice in person, not on Tinder. He wracked his brain to come up with something witty and funny. His mind raced.  

“So, you’re a runner, huh?” asked Joe Wilson.  

AnnMarie nodded.  

Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter