Her Amazing Race

Featured Article, Fitness
on January 31, 2011

An article in the January 2009 issue of Spry offered a 12-week training program developed by Olympian and coach Jeff Galloway for anyone wanting to run a 5k. "Put your best foot forward," the article encouraged. I kept the article and thought about it off and on for some weeks before coming to the website to look at the program.

"Week 1," it read, "Run for 5-10 seconds; walk for the rest of the minute." Wait, was I reading this right? Seconds? I read on. "Alternate for time/distance below." Ah ha, I thought, here it comes. But Tuesday's session only spanned 10 minutes; Thursday's 13. The "big day"—Saturday—was a mile-run. Mmmmm. Maybe I could do this.

There was nothing in the article (I read it a couple of times to be sure) about age limitations. So being 59 and of ample dimensions, yet spry enough to believe in my own strength, I decided to try it. I began the program in February, training for the Arbor Day Festival race in Norwood, North Carolina, which was scheduled for April 25, 2009. There wasn't a week to spare!

I trained at a local park that has a half-mile track with a wildlife habitat surrounding it. Trees shaded some of the track, and often while I ran, crows cawed from the trees. Because I ran early, usually no one else was around, so I would always talk back to them. I know it sounds foolish, but I like to think the crows were cheering me on.

I panted a bit in the beginning (OK, a lot!), but my stamina improved quickly. There were days when—to put it bluntly —I felt like I was carrying lead in my behind, but week after week, I became steadier in my rhythm, seldom getting out of breath.

Just over the halfway point in my training, I decided to try a three-mile run on the paved park track. The first mile was fine. Mile two was OK as well. I knew the training didn't require this run, but I finished the three miles in about 50 minutes. Non-stop! Having accomplished that, I knew I could finish the 5K race, which was rapidly approaching.

I only lost a couple pounds during this process. Of course I had had this vision of being one of those runners with lean, muscular legs, but short and stout is how I am and that's how I would run. (I will add that my husband, who's been known to grab my buns on occasion—even after 42 years of marriage—soon started calling me the woman with "the buns of steel"!)

The morning of the Arbor Day Festival was clear and warm. I was nervous about the race, but I couldn't wait to start. When I checked in, I was met by a woman with a smile, who handed me my number: 208. I proudly pinned on my number, making it official. I was a runner!

Participants were called to the starting line, and within moments, we were off! The seasoned runners were quick to take off down the long hill, soon disappearing from sight. There were others who jog/walked. My goal was to run the whole way, so I ran at my own pace, focusing on the road ahead.

Passing up the first water station was a mistake; at one point I worried about whether I'd make it. As I rounded a turn, though, a woman yelled to me, "You're doing great!" My spirits lifted, I dug in and kept going.

At a little over two miles in, I considered walking for a little bit, but as soon as I slowed down, my leg muscles tightened. I picked up my pace and kept going.

Finally I spotted another water station. I took a couple of sips, and then poured the rest over my head. (It felt so good!) There was no way I was giving up now—the end was less than a mile away. 

As I made the last turn, I saw my husband and friends, waving me on. Giving them a thumbs-up, I crossed the finish line. I had done it—I'd run a 5K! My time was 48 minutes, 36 seconds—I placed third in my age group!

There's no denying the satisfaction of finishing that race. I called my daughter, and she was ecstatic, too. Tears came to my eyes when I heard her yell to my 5-year-old granddaughter, "Gramma just finished a race!"

I hope that others will find inspiration in my story. Learning how to reach a goal a little at a time can inspire you to set bigger goals. Writing this article was one of mine. And in September 2009, when I turned 60, I did karaoke for the first time. All it takes to accomplish your goals is a step in the right direction. Just like the Spry article says, you just have to put your best foot forward.