Greg Puckett never thought he would stick with running.

Years ago, the Arkansas educator was teaching AP Psychology and wanted to connect with a colleague whom he respected. The only problem was, their paths didn’t cross. Puckett thought there was no way he could get to know her.

That is, until she approached him one day and asked if he would train with her for a half-marathon. This was the in that Puckett was looking for.

His decision to pound the pavement was supposed to be a means to an end.

“I immediately thought, ‘OK, here’s the plan: I’m going to tell her ‘yes,’ and then get to spend time with her outside of the classroom,'” he said. “Then I thought I was going to drop out, because there’s no way I can run 13 miles.”

But as it turns out, Puckett did run those 13 miles. When he crossed the finish line, there was one prevailing thought in his head: he wanted to run 26.

He first ran the Chicago Marathon in 2010, and in his words, “hasn’t stopped running since.” That includes his experience at the Chicago Marathon in 2021, when he walked the course after breaking three vertebrae.

“It was my slowest time ever, but also one of the most gratifying and emotional marathons I’ve ever run,” he said.

These days, Puckett is an ardent marathoner. Now a vice principal in Bentonville, a picturesque city in the midst of the Ozarks mountains, he’s run 31 marathons over the last 14 years. His most recent race was the 2023 New York City Marathon, in which he ran as part of Team TCS, a national group of educators who participate in marathons together.

With the spring running season upon us, Queerty recently caught up with Puckett to talk about his running playlist, life as an out gay educator in Arkansas and his wild marathon experience in New Orleans. Here’s what he had to say…

QUEERTY: What is your training regimen?

GREG PUCKETT: I usually run three days per week, but if I’m training for a marathon, I’ll do a long run Saturday or Sunday morning—12 miles or 14. I’ll do that for about four months leading up to the marathon weekend.

It must take so much willpower to do all of that running…

If you’re training for a fall marathon, you’re training in Arkansas in July and August, when it’s crazy hot and crazy humid. So you have to slow down your pace, you have to stay incredibly hydrated.

Speaking to the perseverance, there are definitely times you don’t want do it, but you have to. It’s not a good idea to skip out on a training run. You can miss one or two, but you have to get up every single weekend, and put in the miles.

How do you keep your mind occupied while running long distances?

I show gratitude. I think about friends, I think about my parents. I think about my nephew and my sister, who all live here locally. But a lot of times when you’re running long distances, your mind will definitely wander. You want to get into a zone, to where you can just do it without having to think about the cadence or the pace. I try to be thankful for what I have.

In the later miles, your cognition changes. During a physical marathon, when you get into mile 20, 21 or 22, your cognition gets difficult. It helps to focus on gratitude, it helps to focus on compassion and empathy.

How do you feel when you cross the finish line?

The adrenaline is pumping at 90 miles an hour. It’s a very good feeling. It’s euphoric, it’s a feeling of elation. It’s a feeling of “When can I do the next one?” I’m already thinking about what I want to do in the spring, and what I want to do in the fall.

As of right now, Oklahoma City Marathon is in a couple of weeks, and it’s about a three-hour drive from where I live. And I’m already thinking, “If the weather is good, I might just go run, because I love doing it so much.”

What’s your favorite marathon experience?

You can’t beat the last five miles of New York City. Finishing in New York City, it will make you emotional, and it will make you be thankful for what you have. I’ve ran the Chicago Marathon 10 times, obviously I love that race, I love that city, I love the people in Chicago. I love the feeling of it. That’s a very fun race, but New York City is the apex of the races I’ve run.

But one of my favorite stories is what happened when I ran the 2019 New Orleans Marathon. I sensed a commotion about 50 yards ahead of me in mile six or seven. It was early in the race.

As I got closer to whatever was happening, the runners got more and more excited, cheering and yelling as they looked to the right. It took me a few seconds to realize there was a lady on her front porch, completely naked, and drinking a glass of wine while watching the race!

She wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing and didn’t care who knew it. I remember thinking, “That’s pretty on brand for a city like New Orleans.” There are always fun spectators along a course and you never know what people are going to be doing, they are almost as much a part of the culture as the runners are.

Do you have a running playlist and, if so, what’s currently on it?

I definitely listen to music while training and my playlist is pretty eclectic: Tyler Childers, Kygo, Chris Stapleton, Dreamer Boy, Cautious Clay, My Morning Jacket, and the Hamilton Soundtrack.  But currently I can’t get enough of Beyonce, especially “Texas Hold ‘Em!”

What role has running played in your journey as an out gay man?

I knew I was gay early in life. But growing up in the South, I was terrified. I did get picked on. So my goal all through school was to not draw attention to myself at all. There was no way I was ever going to join a team, or run for class president. That was off the table.

That bled into young adulthood. But I came to terms with it, and had a pretty good experience coming out. But even after coming out, I was a lug. I didn’t have any focus, I didn’t have any goals. There was nothing pushing me forward in life, period.

One day, I said—this was around the time when Susan G. Komen launched Race for the Cure nationwide, it was a really big deal—“I’m going to run to the end of my street, and see how that feels.” I did it, I ran to the end of my street, and then went home and smoked a cigarette on my couch.

I’m super embarrassed I used to do that, but I did. I turned around, walked home and sat on my couch and watched Desperate Housewives.  Running gave me an identity that I didn’t have.

Are you accepted at work as an out educator?

Yes. It’s a large, classic American high school, about 3,000 kids, with pep rallies and spirit days and championship teams and competitive national band organization. But I’ve always been out. The administration supports me 100%, we support LGBT kids 100%. We have amazing parents and adults in our district. 

What’s next for you in terms of developing a platform?

I hope to keep running marathons as long as I can keep going. I don’t see it stopping. In terms of advocacy, I hope that my actions and the way I treat people gay and straight is what stands out. I try to have interactions that are driven through empathy, and help kids understand they’re great just the way they are. 

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