Restaurant owner Joey Ma on how she became a marathon runner.
Editor’s Note: Chase the Submarine has closed.
Joey Ma hates to run. “I think it’s the worst thing in the world,” she says. With her husband, chef Tim Ma, she owns Vienna’s Chase the Submarine and D.C.’s Kyirisan restaurants. Though she ran a good deal in college, somewhere between operating restaurants and having three children, free time got away from her. “As a small-business owner, as a woman, as a mother of three, I was being pulled in a million different directions, and none of them had to do with my well-being,” she says.
Ma decided to change that and sampled yoga, but she found the scheduled class format didn’t work for her always-on-call lifestyle. She tried working out with friends on weekends but once again would get called away to job duties. Then she remembered the simplicity of running. “I don’t need to pack anything,” she says. “I don’t need to do it with anyone else. I don’t need to sign up. It doesn’t have to be a certain time or a certain day.”
Because Ma wanted to stay motivated and train regularly, she opted not for a 5K but a marathon. She and Tim signed up for the 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon, and she began training with friends. But a few months before the race, she was diagnosed with skin cancer, requiring surgery and an extended pause from training.
When race day arrived in January, Ma didn’t feel ready but remained undeterred. About halfway through the race, problems with her IT band were creating severe pain, and her husband urged her to throw in the towel. Yet she continued, willing herself to reach the end. By the final mile, Ma says she was hopping and teary-eyed not from pain but from gratitude.
“When I crossed the finish line, it was such an amazing experience for me, a sense of accomplishment, of self-worth,” she says. “And it was one of those things where I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I made it. I can make it through anything.’”