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Vol. LX, No. 24
November 28, 2008
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Visiting Scientist Fenster Wins Women’s Marathon

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Dr. Cate Fenster, a professor of biology at the College of Wooster in Ohio who is spending the fall semester on sabbatical at NIH, will have more to take back with her than new knowledge about neuroscience when she returns home at Christmastime. On Oct. 26, she won the women’s division of the Marine Corps Marathon in a time of 2:48. It was her first marathon ever.

Fear of injury and stories of the “horrors of recovery” from other runners had prevented her from running the marathon distance of 26.2 miles in the past. “I love running,” she said, “and wouldn’t want to risk an injury that might keep me off the road for any length of time.” But Fenster, 37, was encouraged to enter the Marine event after running respect ably in an invitation-only 8K U.S. Track and Field Association national championship race in Akron at the end of September.

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  Dr. Cate Fenster  
  Dr. Cate Fenster  

“I finished second to last in an elite field, but I was really excited just to be there,” she said. Fenster entered the Marine Corps Marathon, “I guess because I was here.” Leading up to the race, she mixed speed work with a couple of 20-milers. On race day, she faltered near the end but gutted out a victory by 11 seconds over her closest competitor.

“There’s a hill at the end of the race that’s like a sick joke,” she said. “I wanted to walk up the hill.”

Born in Germany and reared all over the map—from Neenah, Wisc., to Texas, South Carolina, Georgia and Indiana (her dad worked for paper giant Mead)—Fenster began running while in high school in Wisconsin.

“I began as a sprinter,” she said. “As a freshman, I ran the 100-yard dash and just started getting longer after that.” While an undergraduate biology major at Furman University, she competed in cross-country (5,000 meters) and in three track distances—5K, 10K and 1,600 meters.

“I qualified for the NCAA Division 1 national finals in cross-country,” she said. She is also in the Furman athletic Hall of Fame for a school-record 16:51 in cross-country. “For me that’s a fast time,” she said. “Nowadays I run an 18:00 5K.”

Encouraged by her success in October, Fenster says she “will probably make a goal of doing one or two marathons a year.” She was back to daily running just 3 days after her first marathon and felt fine. She says both running and science depend on an ability to focus; both endeavors are “pretty all-consuming.”

Fenster, a professor at the College of Wooster who is spending the fall semester on sabbatical at NIH, wins the women’s division of the Marine Corps Marathon in a time of 2:48.
Fenster, a professor at the College of Wooster who is spending the fall semester on sabbatical at NIH, wins the women’s division of the Marine Corps Marathon in a time of 2:48.

She was attracted to NIH by the work of Dr. Andrés Buonanno, chief of the section on molecular neurobiology at NICHD’s Laboratory of Developmental Neurobiology. “The overall goal of research conducted by his lab is to understand some of the mechanisms that regulate excitatory neurotransmission, which matched my research interests,” said Fenster. “He was listed [in an online fellowship database] as a potential mentor, and when I called him, I was impressed by his enthusiasm and excitement regarding his research. He was also very receptive to the idea of forming a research collaboration.”

Fenster is using electrophysiological techniques to determine how the growth factor neuroregulin influences the function of glutamate receptors. She hopes her 5-month NIH stint results in “at least part of a research paper” and/or preliminary data for a research proposal that might enable her to purchase equipment to continue her electrophysiological experiments when she returns to the College of Wooster. Fenster teaches undergraduate classes in neurobiology, human physiology and an introductory course called Gateway to Cellular and Molecular Biology. “We also just started a neuroscience program,” she noted.

Undergraduates at the C of W are required to complete a research project and a written thesis. This allows students to substantially engage in a field of interest. In order to better mentor their students, professors are allowed to take generous paid sabbaticals to gain expertise in their subjects. Fenster hopes to be as inspiring to the kids she teaches as the profs at Furman who encouraged her to complete a Ph.D. at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The one thing she will not be able to provide her students when her sabbatical wraps up on Dec. 21 is a look at an undamaged Marine Corps Marathon trophy, which is a replica of the Iwo Jima Memorial statue. “I accidentally dropped it while taking the Metro back home after the race,” she said, sheepishly. “This is the one trophy that I had really hoped to keep.” NIHRecord Icon

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