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Yes, you can run a half marathon. I did at 59 — and I’m doing it again

Feb. 4, 2019

MIAMI — I ran a minute, walked a minute.

Ran. Walked. Ran. Walked. For 30 minutes.

That was my first day of training for the Miami Half Marathon — 7 a.m. on the first Saturday of October five years ago. I can still remember my fear, my dread.

“What on earth am I doing?” I asked myself, the refrain racing through my mind as I parked my car, tightened my laces and marched down the sidewalk to the running store.

I was 58 and hadn’t run since my senior year of high school — when I was one of eight girls on the boys’ track team. It was not that I loved running, but rather I was making a political statement at age 17: A girls’ team didn’t exist — this was pre-Title IX — so we joined the boys’ team. (At the meets, we ran the 4-by-200 and 4-by-400 relays against other girls who had done the same.)

Fast forward to that October morning and my first training session with TeamFootWorks, the nonprofit running program of FootWorks, the family-owned store in South Miami that will begin its 46th year on May 15. TeamFootWorks, which started with eight people running the 1995 Metro-Dade Marathon, has trained thousands of people to run a marathon (26.2 miles), a half marathon (13.1 miles) or a 5K (3.1 miles) — people like me, who never thought they could master such a feat.

Since joining the program, I’ve run 10 half marathons. The Fitbit Miami Half Marathon on Sunday, Jan. 27, will be my 11th and my fifth Miami one.

I’ve run in Halloween costumes (OK, a Halloween shirt). I’ve run in 40-degree weather. I’ve run in rain (Ugh!). And I’ve chugged up and down the hills of Nashville, which are beautiful but killer on the last mile.

Along the way, I’ve lost weight, gained muscle, eaten healthier, slept better, gotten closer to my husband Ken (who is running the full marathon on Sunday and has completed an Ironman) and learned to break down complex challenges to manageable tasks, literally one step at a time.

Most importantly, I’ve gained a rich circle of friends. We have sweated side by side, yelling “We’ve got this!” as we make our way past each mile post. We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve celebrated the birth of children, and mourned the death of loved ones.

And every Saturday, after our runs, we treat ourselves to breakfast, dissecting our performance and the latest in our lives over eggs, grits and café con leche.

“I constantly tell my runners that the most meaningful relationships they will find in their lives will come from the moments or struggles they share with someone else,” said Frankie Ruiz, co-founder of the Miami Marathon and a longtime cross country coach at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School.

“That’s what running is. You’re going to sweat when you run in South Florida. And that sweat, and that struggle, binds you with someone else.”

STARTING SMALL

I didn’t run 13.1 miles overnight.

I started with those 30 minutes on Saturday morning — two miles, running and walking. The following Saturday, three miles — seven minutes more going out, and seven minutes more on the return. (We average a 14-minute mile pace, between the walks and runs.) Then four miles. Five. Each week another mile.

That’s the Saturday morning schedule. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, there are the ‘fun runs’ — 3.1 miles each, meeting at the store at 6:30 p.m. and running through the neighborhood. On the days we don’t run, I’ll walk or ride my bike to keep limber.

My running partner and I, Alina Cruz, an immigration attorney, work late so we run at Tropical Park every Tuesday and Thursday morning. We run around the park three to five miles, depending on our energy, how much sleep we’ve had the night before and how hot it is. (The recent cold spell has been great!)

We met on that first October morning. We parked next to each other and walked to the store, each with the same look: “What are we getting into?”

Turns out, we have a lot in common. We’re six months apart in age. She has two sons, as do I. She was a graphic designer who worked with the media before becoming an attorney; I’m a journalist. And her Cuban heritage and my Italian-Greek roots have bonded over our love of cooking, travel and family.

We have been running together ever since, and we know we couldn’t have come this far without the other. Feel like not running the next morning? Can’t say no when the text comes the night before saying: “We’re running, right?”

We run in the 1/1 pace group — that’s one minute of running, one minute of walking. All of our training is at that pace, including the half marathon. We usually finish the race in three hours, sometimes a bit less.

ONE-MINUTE WALKS

Each TeamFootWorks group is built around a one-minute walk break. The program has six running groups — 1/1, 2/1, 3/1, 4/1, 5/1 and mile/1. The 2/1 group runs for two minutes, walks a minute. The 3/1 group runs for three minutes, walks a minute — all the way up to the mile/1 group, which runs a mile, then walks a minute. (They run an 8-minute mile.) There’s also a walking group, dubbed the Street Walkers.

Jeff Galloway, the U.S. Olympian who ran the 10,000 meters in the 1972 Munich Olympics, developed the method, also known as intervals. He had just opened a running store in Atlanta, Phidippides, named for the Greek runner who alerted his countrymen that the Persian Army had invaded Marathon in ancient Greece in 490 BC.

He started a running program, quickly realizing that new runners — and older runners — had to build up gradually if they were going to finish the race. He’s since written books — “Jeff Galloway: The Run-Walk-Run Method” — and conducted studies showing how half marathon runners who follow the run/walk method will run an average of 7 minutes faster than non-stop runners. (Full marathoners following the run/walk method will run 13 minutes faster than non-stop runners, Galloway says.)

“By taking that one-minute walk break, it allows you to recover and prepare yourself for the next one minute, two minutes or five minutes of running,” said Josh Liebman, who runs the TeamFootWorks program and has completed 101 full marathons.

Many of the runners are in their 40, 50 and 60s. Our team leaders, Betty Perez and Teri Patton, worked together at Caribbean K-8 Center in southwest Miami-Dade. Patton had learned Perez was planning on running the Hot Chocolate 5K in Atlanta back in January 2014.

“I spoke to Betty and said, ‘Sign me up,’” said Patton, 64, who runs the school’s Special Education program.

Despite the 24-degree temperature at the start of the race, they got hooked.

They started training with TeamFootWorks’ Fitness 101 — which trains runners for a 5K — and quickly moved up to the half marathons, becoming team leaders of the 1/1 group.

Since then, the two have run the inaugural Disney Princess Half Marathon in Paris (2016), the Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon Dublin (2017), the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon (2018) and countless Halloween and Miami half marathons. They also returned to the Hot Chocolate 5K last fall in Chicago.

“I love the running,” said Patton, who lost 70 pounds before running and has kept the weight off. “I love the friends I’ve met.”

Laurie Huseby started Footworks with her husband Hans in 1974, coming to Miami from Minnesota to work at her father’s Earth Shoe store, which they transformed into the running store. About 25 years ago, the two started TeamFootWorks. (Hans, an avid runner, died in his sleep on Saturday morning of the Thanksgiving weekend in 2014. He was 64.)

Huseby, 68, says she met her best friend, Dr. Ana Campo, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and associate dean for student affairs at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, in one of those early training programs. They’ve run in races all across the country.

Over the years, Huseby has seen friendships, marriages and a few divorces through TeamFootWorks, which created the Mercedes-Benz Corporate Run, which attracts thousands of runners in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

“I hear on and on from all the participants — and often the participants’ spouses — how you’ve changed my life, or how you changed my husband’s life,” says Huseby, who now does the walking program, whose walkers average a 16- to 20-minute mile.

“The truth is anyone can do it,” she added. “You don’t need to be fast. You don’t need to break a record. But the accomplishment of completing the program and finishing the race — that makes you feel like you can do anything.”

——

TEAMFOOTWORKS

TeamFootWorks will begin its Spring Training half marathon program on Feb. 16, ending the last week of May.

For more information, go to teamfootworks.org

 


Associated Press