It’s a wild ride for Hackettstown marathon runner  



By Jillian Risberg 

It’s that 30 to 40-second high you get when you cross the finish line and the thought, ‘ awesome, when can I go again.’ 

With 25 marathons under her belt — Dr. Zina Cappiello knows that feeling well.  

“You feel exhausted but proud and exhilarated,” the podiatrist says. “It’s addictive.” 

She loves to travel and has been to almost all the continents — Europe and Asia, Middle East, South America. It’s how she spends much of her free or vacation time. And it was Cappiello’s segue into marathon running. 


She finished her first at 30-years-old in Chicago.


The next year she ran Philadelphia and New York, and kept going. 

“I completed: Delaware, Rhode Island, Virginia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Florida, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, South Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Utah, Michigan, Tennessee, Colorado,” says the podiatrist. “And 25 to go; it’s been quite an adventure.”


For a while she says two marathons a year worked out pretty well and three (the most she’s finished) is intense. 

“I’ve done the whole East Coast, so I’ve got none I can drive to now and (must) start flying; that’s time-consuming too,” says Cappiello. “I have to hit the middle of the US — I’d like to maybe finish in the next 10 years.  Every state has a marathon now, at least one.”

According to the foot doc, there’s a camaraderie among runners — who she finds upbeat people, goal-oriented and interesting. And she loves to meet them from other parts of the country. 

“A lot of times I’ll make a weekend out of it,” she says. “I’ll get there on Friday, run on a Sunday or Saturday — tour the city, in addition to the run. You can do it at your own pace, do it with friends, do it by yourself. It’s a diversified sport. You don’t need anything special to do it.”

Getting in the mindset depends on her mood. Sometimes the podiatrist listens to music for inspiration, goes on YouTube and catches a podcast. Whatever relaxes her mind. 

“When you’re relaxed your breathing is better so you don’t cramp up,” says Cappiello. “Little techniques I’ve learned throughout the years talking to other runners to make it easier. Sometimes I listen to an audiobook or Netflix and I’m in another zone. Sometimes I don’t run with anything and just listen to the birds, rain or whatever.”  

Running teaches patience.  

Be patient with yourself because running is all about you. Don’t compare yourself to others.

“When I first started running marathons, people always asked, ‘what’s your time.’ New runners get fixated on a time. Mostly people who ask aren’t even running,” the podiatrist says. “I say, don’t worry about the time; it’s accomplishment enough to run a marathon.”

Some runners don’t even run marathons, they want to do 5K or smaller races, or no races, get out there and exercise.  

“This is my gift to myself,” says Cappiello. “There’s so much to learn when you clear your mind. When I run a marathon and I’m by myself I can do what I want, think about what I want and nothing else matters. I look forward to it because I know for 4.5 hours no-one is going to bother me.”

The doctor rotates between three pairs of sneakers a year, which she says is better for the body and runs five days a week. It could be three miles, it could be eight miles. She says if you can twist and fold the sneaker it’s not good for running.  

For injury prevention, Cappiello recommends warming your muscles up first (they don’t have the blood flow they need yet) and then stretching. Go out for a light jog, then stop and stretch out your calves or do some exercises.

“And it’s not just your legs, but your whole body,” she says you engage your core muscles and have to keep solid when you run, otherwise one expends more energy. “It’s about being energy efficient.” 


After all these years, how does she do it?

“(I’m often asked) if I have pain and if I’m still injury-free,” says the podiatrist. “People can’t believe I’m still running and don’t have knee or foot issues. Not to say I don’t have an injury here or there but I don’t have anything long-term or chronic.”

A podiatrist friend makes Cappiello orthotics that puts her foot in optimum position. 

“That helps with the running,” she says. “And don’t overtrain, you’ll get an overuse injury and it could be devastating. Recovery (also) plays a huge role, giving your muscles time to recover and replenish. I’ve found balance and why I can sustain so many years doing many miles.”

She doesn’t train the way other runners do (no more than eight miles), focuses instead on biomechanics and proper technique so she utilizes less energy and sustains longer. 


When she was a New York medical student, a friend ran the NYC Marathon. 

“I volunteered at the marathons — and always admired the runners. I saw he completed the marathon… and it gave me inspiration,” Cappiello says.  “I’ve been running all my life, maybe five/six miles at a time but said, ‘next year I’m gonna run a marathon.’”  


And the rest is history. 


Cappiello says when one wants to play golf or tennis they take lessons, but no-one talks to us about how to properly run, pick the right sneakers, how to listen to your body and how to start off slow. 

The doc is new to Hackettstown and loves it there.

“Such a great community with diversity, good restaurants,” says the podiatrist. “I’m looking forward to getting more involved.”


As she embarks on this next leg of her running journey, she wants to inspire others to consider running. 


“I love the way running makes me feel; I get that surge of endorphins and always feel good when I come back from a run.”  

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