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Oakwood couple races into the bonds of holy matrimony
Oakwood couple Mark and Nancy Kelley’s passion for running ignited a relationship that eventually led them sprinting to the altar. The couple both began running races to better their health and heal from emotional events in their lives. The couple have been married now for three years.

Some people spend their whole lives chasing after love, but not Mark and Nancy Kelley.

Instead, they were running for their health and healing, when they happened to be lapped by Cupid.

"We were showing up at all of the same races, but we never really talked," said Mark, who lives in Oakwood with his wife.

"We talked one time for about two minutes maybe," Nancy interjected.

"He was warming up before a race and I went out and asked if I could warm up with him. That was just something I did to get to know the other runners.

"That was the extent of it."

"All I knew about her was her name, that she races about the same speed I did and that she was a chiropractor," Mark added.

That initial meeting may not have seemed like much, but it was enough for Mark to pop in her mind again when Nancy was ready to start dating following an especially difficult divorce.

"About the time that I thought I had healed enough from that and was ready to start dating, he disappeared from the running scene," Nancy said.

Prior to his absence, Nancy was used to seeing Mark every weekend at one race or another around the state.

"I’d put back on a lot of weight," Mark explained.

Packing on pounds was what led to Mark take up running in the first place.

"I bought my first pair of running shoes on Halloween 1993. Before that, I was the world’s biggest couch potato," Mark said.

"I was depressed (after my divorce), so I’d put on weight and then my dad had a heart attack and bypass surgery and I said, that’s me if I don’t do something. So I bought a pair of running shoes."

After three months, Mark finally decided to return to the weekend races.

Nancy seized the opportunity to better her position from just a casual acquaintance.

"I knew he knew I was divorced, but he wouldn’t say anything. He’d pretty much given up on dating," Nancy added.

"I’d been divorced for 16 years," Mark justified.

"He didn’t think God had anyone else for him. When he finally showed back up at a race, I asked him out," Nancy said.

Although she took the initial step, Nancy let Mark plan the first date.

He picked El Sombrero," Nancy said with a slight roll of her eyes.

"Nothing against them because we both love Mexican food, but they bring your food out just like that," she said, snapping her fingers for emphasis, "three minutes after you order.

"We ate and he ran out the door like 20 minutes later. I thought, well that didn’t go over to well. We followed it up though and started taking longer after each meal."

Despite literally running in the same circles for years, it was those dinner conversations where the duo really found their stride. They even bonded over a shared lack of patience.

"When I first started exercising, I had a little dog and started by taking him out for walks," Mark remembers.

"That was taking a little too much time, so I left the dog at home and tried trotting."

Same goes for Nancy.

"I started out walking, but I hated it," Nancy said. "It was boring and it was taking too long. I thought, if I ran, I could get through it even faster, so I started jogging."

Eventually, the thing they initially struggled with — running — became a lasting passion.

"The Peachtree Road Race in’94 was my first race. Then Thanksgiving Day ’95 I ran my first half marathon and then Thanksgiving Day ’96 I ran my first full marathon," Mark said.

"My first marathon was in Atlanta. I had no clue if I was going to be able to finish or not because I’d never run that distance before. I ran it in 3 hours and 42 minutes. That was my second best time ever.

"The following February I went to Tybee Island and did my second one, and that was my best time. It was right at around 3.5 hours. That’s not Olympic time, but it’s not too bad. I’ve done six more since then and dozens of half marathons."

"My first race was in 2003. I think nobody in my age group must’ve shown up because I won first place," Nancy joked.

"I came away hooked though. I thought there was no way I could get through three miles, and I ended up winning."

Between them, they’ve been running for nearly 30 years and have completed more than 1,500 races.

While most betrothed couples seek out chapels, resorts and ballrooms to exchange their vows, the Kelley’s looked for something that would keep the pace with their fleet-footed lifestyle.

"I started looking around for triathlons that were being held in fairly nice areas," Nancy said.

"The one at Callaway Gardens was coming up, and that’s a nice place, so we went with that."

After swimming, biking and running for nearly 13 miles, the couple exchanged vows on June 21, 2009.

"I’m elated," a videographer captured Nancy saying immediately after exchanging her vows.

"I’m feeling like an under 4-hour marathon — pretty good," Mark said with a big smile as he held his bride close.

Looking back, would they trade their venue for something more traditional?

"No," they said in unison, without skipping a beat.

Although physically demanding, the triathlon alleviated all the usual stress related to attire and guest list.

"The only thing I bought was a veil," Nancy said.

"She Velcroed it to her bike helmet," Mark added grinning.

"Plus, all our friends race, so we knew they’d be there," Nancy finished.

"We didn’t get to do it this year, but we (completed the Calloway triathlon) for our (first two) anniversaries."

Even though they’re nearing the age where they’re thinking about retirement, don’t think the Kelleys are hanging up their racing shoes any time soon. Last April, they decided to take their love for running to the next level and became the proprietors of AAA Race Services.

"Every Saturday we’re pretty much running or working a race," Mark said.

Their path to love may be a bit off-course for some, but it led Nancy and Mark each to a partner to go the distance with.

If your own race to find a soul mate is proving to be overwhelming, take a page out of their book.

Throw on some sweats, lace up your sneakers and hit the road, Jack.

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