By Helga Gendell
Six Westchester women, who have participated in local 5K races approximately once a month for a few years, want people to know that you’re never too old or too out of shape to actually begin a fitness program and feel good physically. The concept began with two of the women in the group motivating others to start exercising and some to continue exercising despite not feeling great at times. They range in age from 52 to 55, with two of them turning 56 this year.
The group consists of Donna Lasman, executive director of the Venice Chamber of Commerce, Merri Walles and Fran Chodosh, both of whom started entering 5K runs approximately five years ago, Robin Adams, the volunteer coordinator for the Jet to Jetty run, Wendy Aleman and Natalie Brill. They all met one another when their children were in pre-school.
“On Sundays, Merri, Fran, Natalie and I used to drop our kids off at religious school and head for the beach to walk, chatting over coffee afterward,” said Lasman. “As our kids grew and we went our separate ways, I found myself missing our Sunday mornings. That was when I reached out to Fran and Merri, asking if I could join them. Natalie joined us and soon Robin and Wendy became part of our regular group.”
Lasman said that it’s her friends who keep her motivated and inspired. Participating in the monthly 5Ks led to scheduling time for interval running between races. Although she loved walking and did so almost every day, she “didn’t eagerly embrace running,” and is now running three and sometimes four mornings a week.
“Setting calendar dates with my friends helped me follow through, and despite how sore or tired I feel, I’m out running because I know that once I get started I’ll feel better,” Lasman said. “My outlook started to shift as well. Even when I was feeling down or stressed I found that working out with my friends improved my mood. We also supplement with yoga workouts and Pilates.”
In January, the group launched an official team, Active Ladies Engaged in Vigorous Exercise (ALEVE). “We still have our share of aches and pains, but after a good interval run, we feel so much better, although admittedly, sometimes an Aleve (a non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug for pain relief) is a necessary booster,” noted Lasman.
Not everyone in the group is at the same fitness level. “One of my friends had hip replacements when she was younger – she walks the whole way with one of our team members. I think her story would appeal to people who think they can’t work out,” Lasman said. “On the other end of the spectrum, one of us never thought to try a 10K until she started working out with us. She has since finished two 10K races,” said Lasman.
Brill said, “I’m the youngest at 50, but the slowest. I’ve had many surgeries on my hips, and have had both hips replaced. These women keep me walking and in good shape. I’ll never win a medal but I am doing the 5K in less than an hour. I truly enjoy walking with my friends and it motivates me to exercise. Without this great group of women, I’m not sure I would be in the shape I’m in now. Although they know my limitations, they always support me and walk at my pace to ensure I remain healthy and safe. I am one of the women who have to take Aleve to deal with the pain of weakened muscles. I encourage everyone to find a buddy or two and exercise.”
Lasman said, “We never imagined that at our ages, we would actually get stronger as we got older.” Their original walking times were about 45 minutes. Some of them wanted to increase their times so they started interval running, first jogging one minute and walking two minutes. They gradually increased the running to one-and-a-half minutes and decreased walking to one minute. Between races, they walked in the neighborhood for exercise, and are now doing the interval runs for workouts.
The team has two upcoming races in March. One in Brentwood for the Upward Bound House (Home run for Kids), and in El Segundo (Run for Education). Lasman explained that once she hit 55, she was in a new age division and had jumped in her ranking. She had usually placed in the top 10 in her age division, and in smaller races in the top five. Her goal this year was to medal, which she achieved in January, in a small race with 10 other women in her age group, and she placed third, finishing the race in 32:39.
“My favorite part of the race is regularly seeing my friends and trying to beat my times. It also feels good to know that with every race we enter, we are in a small way contributing to a worthy cause. One of my future goals is to pick one race and ask my network of family and friends to sponsor me,” Lasman said.
Aleman began racing with her friends last January. “I never thought about running a 5K race before then, but I ran for fitness on and off for years, always doing the same routines,” she said. “The race brought out a little competitive part of me I didn’t know I had. I ran my first 5K and did better than I thought I would, and it motivated me to work out more regularly.”
Aleman said she had never done intervals before running with her friends, and noticed that she could run farther by using the walk/run intervals. She decided to use the intervals and add a distance run to her workout. “I was able to run much farther than I thought I possibly could,” she said. “I was then motivated to run a 10K for my 53rd birthday in December. I finished with a good time (for me) and completed a second 10K on Feb. 10, taking 90 seconds off my time.”
“Each time I run I am competing against myself, trying to better myself each race. I am amazed that at this age, I can improve my times and run farther than I did when I was 20. And on top of it all, it’s fun. I even took up golf this year, and I’m not very good at it, but with my experience with running, I know that I’ll get better eventually and have fun doing something new. Running with our group has given me the confidence to take on new experiences,” said Aleman.
Adams describes herself as “the tall one in the group,” and said that at 54, she hasn’t had a strong history of working out, at least not since high school. “My big exercise splash was training for and completing the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk in 2000, about two-thirds of it in the rain, with a friend who is a breast cancer survivor. It was an amazing experience, challenging and very fulfilling, but not anything I want to repeat,” she said.
Adams became involved with walking after some of the women did the Airport Marina Counseling Service Jet to Jetty 5K. She worked at the clinic for two years.
Lasman offered some tips for people wanting to start their own group, and said that some running stores may have running clubs, and links to local events. Most importantly, she said, is to pick an activity you enjoy – walking, biking, dancing – and set achievable goals. She noted that her cousin didn’t begin exercising until she was 52, on a challenge from a friend, first walking only a few blocks and now walking two miles a day.
Her advice – find friends, co-workers, family or community groups with a common interest and compatible schedule; set a weekly calendar date (it can always be changed if something comes up); bring your walking shoes to work and trade your lunch time for walk time; if there’s no time at lunch, leave your exercise clothes in the car and hit the gym before you go home; trade a two-hour breakfast with a friend for one hour of activity and coffee/tea time afterward; and trade an afternoon lunch for a stroll in the park, followed by a light snack.