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Love on the run leads to marriage for Donnellys

It's a case of love on the run . . . eventually.

On Tuesday, Tom and Julie Donnelly will mark their first Valentine's Day as husband and wife. Maybe they will go for a little run to celebrate.

For running is how they met, and running is part of what keeps the North Buffalo couple together.

"We met at a cross country meet in Akron State Park in October of 2000," Tom said. "It was part of the upstate cross country series, and we just began to talk. We talked about her recent accomplishments, including her first marathon in the spring.

"I said I was sure she could do better, based on what she had done. I had done some personal coaching, and I told her what she could do and how to accomplish it. She wanted to know if I could help her, and I said I wouldn't mind."

"We talked probably on a biweekly basis for quite a while, so he could see how my training was going," Julie said. "My second marathon was in the fall of 2001, using Tom's [training] program. We were seeing each other at Checkers' [running club] practices. It went on for a good number of years, and we were just friends."

After a while, the couple talked about subjects other than running, but neither one was quite ready to bring up the subject of a possible romance.

"Both of us kind of knew that it was possible, but neither one said anything for a while," Tom said. "[The relationship] escalated. We spent more and more time together. . . . There was a tenseness. I was afraid that she didn't feel the same way about me. We kept it from each other."

"I think we were afraid that we'd ruin the friendship," Julie said.

The romantic dam finally broke in the spring of 2003, when Tom and Julie realized they were more than coach and runner.

"I proposed to her on July 4, 2004 -- not at the Lancaster [10-kilometer] race, but that night. We had a group together that included some friends," Tom said. "She sensed it was coming sometime, but I shocked her completely that night."

Tom and Julie were married on July 23, 2005. Despite the obvious temptations, no one did anything like wear running shoes to the wedding.

"We joked about having a post-[wedding] race. We had the reception at Delaware Park at the casino, and we had quite a running contingent," Tom said.

"That was neat to see," Julie interjected. "You could tell there were many runners there. They were fit, and they ate a lot. We warned the caterers that people with big appetites were coming."

At 53, Tom gives up a few years to the 36-year-old Julie when they go out for a run together, but they keep a similar pace most days.

"We never have to guess what the other person is doing," Julie said. "We train, do races together, go to race committee meetings [the couple works with the group that stages the Turkey Trot]."

There are a number of couples around the area who have a running connection. Of the ones Tom knows, he says they have one thing in common:

"We've never met happier couples than running couples," he said.

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Match races

On the subject of couples, a Houston-based Web site is trying its best to set up more relationships in the running community on a national basis.

The idea for the site, MeetSingleRunners.com, came to Kate Mason about two years ago.

"In early 2004, some friends and I were sitting at the deck at Memorial Park -- the most social spot for runners in Houston -- after our run, watching all of the beautiful people run by," Mason wrote via e-mail.

She got the site up last summer in an effort to help runners who were seeking running partners, new friends, etc. Mason is up to 150 registered runners, mostly in Texas, although she has hopes of expanding the database in the months ahead. Mason also plans to set up links to running clubs, stores and publications.

With 10.4 million single runners in the United States, the idea has plenty of room for growth. The Web address got an unexpected boost when a national financial magazine gave it a plug.

"It's really been a hoot so far and if the past couple of weeks are any indication of what's to come -- we are very excited!" she wrote.

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Upcoming races

Botanical Gardens 5K, 2655 South Park Ave., 11 a.m. Saturday, 827-1584, ext. 204. . . .Polar Bear Run, 5K, 1691 Lockport Olcott Road (Rt. 78), Olcott, 11 a.m Feb. 26, 622-9488. . . . Chilly Challenge, 5K, Canisius High School, 1180 Delaware Ave., noon Feb. 26, 675-9400. . . . Artvoice Big Fat Race, 7K, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave, 5 p.m. Feb. 28, 881-6604. . . . Shamrock Run (Buffalo News Runner of the Year race), 8K, 62 Republic St., noon March 4, 856-8613.

e-mail: bbailey@buffnews.com

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