The families that run together…

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I have a friend who’s a serious athlete. She hikes and climbs and rides mountain bikes – and she runs marathons. “I ran a marathon last weekend,” she will say, like it’s no big deal.

Well, yeah.

What’s a marathon? It’s 26.2 miles of running.

What’s it like to run a marathon? I have no idea, though I wonder sometimes.

But what many people wonder is probably more like this:

“Can regular people train for and run marathons too?”

I asked that very question to two different Alpharetta women who have “managed to marathon” (as someone once put it) while still working full time and being full-time moms too.

The short version of their answer? “Yes!”

Here’s the long version.

Before she began serious running, recalls Alpharetta resident Paige Mack, she would tag along while relatives ran races, pulling her kids in a wagon as she watched the action unfold. But one day she realized she was working as hard pulling that wagon as she would if she was running.

“That’s when I said it’s got to be easier to do the race than to just drag the kids along in that wagon!” she says.

Paige began looking into training regimens and found what she wanted at runnersworld.com.

“I followed a strict five-day-a week training schedule,” she says. “That was good for me because I needed the structure.” It also built confidence that she was training correctly. But sometimes it was difficult to meet that schedule’s demands.

“If you can’t adhere to a schedule, you feel guilty,” she says, so she eventually developed a more flexible training schedule of her own.

Paige’s first race was in 2005, and her first full marathon was in 2011. She will run her ninth full marathon this January.

For Paige, running is a family affair that she enjoys with her three daughters. Jojo, 11, ran her first 5K when just 5 years old and is now on her “fourth or fifth 10K.” Fifteen-year-old Madeline will run her first half marathon in January, and Lydia (just turned 18) has finished three half-marathons and is registered to do her first full marathon too. Even husband Kyle joins in the family running from time to time, Paige says.

Paige enjoys the sense of accomplishment that completing in a marathon brings, but there’s more to it than that.

“You know what my favorite thing is about running with the kids?” she says. “When we go out for long training runs, they are unplugged and they talk. It’s wonderful. It’s really good talking time and not at all like you’re trying to force a discussion. You’re trying to keep from thinking about what hurts, so you talk about everything that’s on your mind.”

How would Paige advise others who want to get into running?

“I’d point them toward a program called ‘Couch to 5K’ (www.c25k.com),” she says. “It’s a good start – and a good restart too,” Paige says. In fact, Paige did it herself after Jojo was born.

What’s next?

“An ultramarathon,” Paige says, referring to any race longer than the traditional marathon. She adds, “A 50K [about 31 miles] would be my next goal.”

Bonnie Luffel is another Alpharetta resident who’s a great fan of marathons.

“My husband David runs them,” she says. In fact, David has run the Boston Marathon. “So when I hit age 40, I decided I had to try it too.”

Like Paige, Bonnie began with a formal training plan – a 16-week plan she found in a book on women’s running.

“You start gradually and build up the miles,” she says.

Bonnie’s training incorporated the “Fartlek” approach of blending fast running and slower running, and she pushed herself as hard as she could while still being able to carry on a conversation.

“That’s what you aim for – being able to talk to someone while you run,” she says.

What’s it like to train for a marathon? Some days, Bonnie says, “I can run forever. But some days I can’t even run a mile.” On those can’t-run-a-mile days, she adds, “It’s important to keep the big picture in mind. That’s when I remind myself that I’m working toward a goal.”

For Bonnie, as for many busy women, the hardest thing is simply finding the time. She has been part of a running group through the YMCA, and that helps. But being a mom while working full time as a para-professional at Alpharetta Elementary “does make it harder to find time to train like I’d like to – especially once I start getting into longer distances and start to train for longer runs.”

Like Paige, Bonnie enjoys sharing running with her family. She runs with her husband David as well as with her 9-year-old daughter Annabelle. In fact, she adds, Annabelle has topped the one-mile mark.

“She’s very interested,” Bonnie says, “and I think she will enjoy it.”

Bonnie further shares her enthusiasm for running with students at Alpharetta Elementary through the school’s “You Go Girl” program. There are close to 20 girls involved with that program, and they’re currently training for the school’s Flying 5K race in February.

“It’s inspiring to see young people want to get out and run,” she says, “and it’s important to be a role model so the girls will see you and think ‘If she can do it, then someday I can do it too.’ ”

Though getting started in marathon running can be intimidating, Bonnie encourages other women to go for it.

“When I see new runners starting out, I always encourage them,” she says. “I tell them ‘You’ve got this!’ ”

She adds, “Find that good training plan and a supportive run group that will motivate you to get out there. Sure, you’re going to have bad days. But don’t get discouraged. Know that it’s going to get better – and don’t give up!


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