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Running Gets California Couple Through Ups and Downhills

Runners Cathy and Kevin O'Reilly pose for a photo shortly after getting married

First impressions matter—but thankfully they aren’t everything for one couple.

When Cathy met future husband, Kevin, it wasn’t love at first sight. But after hitting a few trails together, it was head over running shoes. Now married for 15 years and active in the Fleet Feet Burbank community for the last five, the O’Reillys still partner up both on and off the road.

Cathy and Kevin talked with us before heading out on one of their final Tuesday night training sessions before the Los Angeles Marathon. For them, love and running go hand in hand, always inspiring and strengthening the other.

Runners Cathy and Kevin O'Reilly pose for a photo

Fleet Feet: When and how did you meet?

Cathy: So we met in 2001 in San Diego. We were in a running group called the Hash House Harriers. It was a really tiny group that primarily did trail runs, and we would go and finish off with having a beer. Kevin and I were both kind of new to the group. I remember seeing him; we were standing in this parking lot, dirt everywhere. I thought, “Oh, he’s kind of cute,” but I also thought he was kind of stuck up. Turns out he was really just shy. But we ran a few runs together, and I was really impressed with how he ran up hills. I was just amazed. He powered up those hills, so it took everything in my power to try and keep up with him. He’d usually pull ahead a little bit on the uphills, but then I would quickly catch up on the downhills.

Kevin: I suck on downhills.

Fleet Feet: You have complementary strengths then.

Kevin: We were very complementary. It worked out really interestingly. She had a grandchild that was born at the same I had taken my kid to an environmental project thing. So we’re just running and it’s like, “Oh I heard...” and, “Oh I heard…” We were both very impressed. Within a week there was a campout. She told me—somehow she raised the enthusiasm—that the SoCal Hash House Harriers were finding management for the next year’s running club. She goes, “You should just run to be manager of the club.” I’d only been part of this club for a couple months. Yeah, sure.

Fleet Feet: How did that change things for you two?

Kevin: I enjoyed the management. I became a social runner. I would have been the stuck-up kid in the corner type person. We haven’t been apart since that campout. From that day on, we’ve been together. We’ve had a lot of years and a lot of races.

Cathy: We’ve run pretty close together. Our paces have stayed reasonably close.

Fleet Feet: What is it like to run together as a couple?

Kevin: I want to tell the story of being with another oldest child. With the Hash House Harriers we used to plan trails. A “hare” designs the trail for a weekly run and then lays the trail live while trying to outrun the pack. So we’d have to spend a week or two before the date, go out in the backwoods, and try to find a trail that is interesting and has ways to confuse and enthuse. When you take Cathy and me and try to plan a trail, every single time she has her vision, and I have my vision. It’s really tough, but we enjoy it. And we’d enjoy it another hundred times.

Cathy: It ends nicely. The process is maybe a little challenging.

Kevin: Over eight years, Cathy and I must have hared more than 60 trails together without driving each other too crazy. We take a lot of pride in making trails that have some new feature or location and are challenging to the fastest runners while also designed to keep the pack together so that everyone finishes around the same time.

Fleet Feet: How did you come to join the Fleet Feet Burbank community?

Kevin: We moved to LA in 2011. We live near Griffith Park, and when we were looking at houses, we saw all the runners in the park and knew this was going to be our home. Cathy had found a Saturday morning running group, which had a great family of runners at the time. One year, someone heard there was a relay race from Fleet Feet to Golden Road Brewery. We met Colin (the owner of Fleet Feet Burbank) and others. Throw in that Fleet Feet was doing Pub Runs, and we have been part of the Fleet Feet family ever since.

Runners Cathy and Kevin O'Reilly pose for a photo during a run

Fleet Feet: What has it been like running with Fleet Feet Burbank?

Kevin: I remember going out on one of the Sunday trail series runs. My first time on the back of Verdugo, and three guys all ran with me. I felt so welcomed. I don’t think I will be able to run that fast again! We just feel so comfortable and loved. It’s a great place to be. Through Fleet Feet I got the inspiration, training and goal fulfillment of running my first trail 50K for my 60th birthday. We are big believers in the power of the group and have loved being mentors for Fleet Feet training programs.

Fleet Feet: Do you have any memorable running experiences together?

Cathy: I ran the LA marathon in a super hot year. At the end I was exhausted. Kev had parked the car about a mile from the end. I said, “I can't walk that far,” and then my phone died. He couldn't get the car closer because of traffic. He had his bike and was riding it to come get me so that I could ride it back to the car when someone opened a car door, and he flew over the handlebars. He broke both arms and hit his head but still got up and rode to get me. He had refused an offer to call an ambulance, saying he had to get his wife. All pain left me when I saw him; I just had to get him back to the car and then an emergency room. I got to return the love over the next several weeks while he recovered.

Fleet Feet: What are you future running goals together?

Cathy: Running has been a significant part of our lives together. There are times when we have some type of running event five days a week; other times one of us is dealing with injuries. Both make us stronger as a couple. While we may not be as fast or able to run as far as we once did, I don't see us stopping. Even if it means we reach a place where one of us is pushing the other in a wheelchair across some finish line.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

By Rachel Wilde. Rachel once competed in the 4x100m relay on her middle school track team. After a bungled baton pass cost them the lead at regional championships, she was heartbroken and took the next 20 years off. Fortunately, Rachel found joy in running again at Fleet Feet Burbank where she works as Digital Marketing Manager. She is currently training for local trail races.

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