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|April 24-30, 2008
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Never too old to start
Novice runner proves we all can be marathoners
by David Whiting
It was her “god-awful” job that got Sue Gonzales running. In her early 40s, she figured if she was ever going to get a new job, it was high time to start looking. But she couldn’t fit into her interview suit.
And she wasn’t about to buy a bigger outfit.
So Gonzales signed up for a beginning running program, which — safely and sanely — emphasized slow and steady over speed. First she walked. Then she ran a little. Then she slipped into the interview suit, 25 pounds lighter. Then she nailed the job.
Then she kept running.
“It changed my life,” says Gonzales, 46, an auditor at Southern California Edison. “And life is good.”
Today, three years after starting the Snail’s Pace program, Gonzales is training for a half-marathon, Pacific Shoreline, and is thinking about running a full marathon in early summer. Oh, and she plans to take up surfing when she turns 50.
Don’t you just hate her?
Hang on. Like all mortals, Gonzales’ path has not been smooth. She had completed two half-marathons and was on her way to her first marathon a year ago when she had a hysterectomy. After that, she had to start from the beginning.
Well, not quite the beginning.
“I ran 16 miles the day before my surgery,” she recalls. “And I got clearance to run again a month later.” She credits the speedy recovery to being in shape.
Gonzales runs for fun and fitness, not to win races. And she is fine with that, telling me, “I’m built for comfort, not for speed.”
Ask Gonzales what she likes about running, and she checks off the usual: health, doing things she never thought she’d be able to do. But she also talks about the people.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie,” she says about being in a program. “It’s easier running with a group.”
One of Gonzales’ running buddies, Kathy Pham, is also taking her time, gradually building her distance and speed to reduce the possibility of injury. Like Gonzales, Pham sees a marathon on the horizon.
“My goal is to run at least one marathon by the time I turn 50,” says Pham, who just turned 46. An active member of a women’s gym (yoga, weights), the Irvine resident began running in April and couldn’t believe it when she ran seven miles a few weeks ago.
“At first I thought it was kind of scary,” Pham says when she heard about the long runs. After all, the Prudential real-estate employee is diabetic. But Pham’s and Gonzales’ group had worked up to the distance, and Pham had her energy gel packs. In the end, the seven-mile run went fine.
OK, better than fine.
Pham is one of those people who, like many of us, took decades to discover the sport. But when she did, the planets aligned. The Age of Aquarius. Peace on Earth.
“After the first three months, I was so charged I said, ‘I’m ready to run a full marathon,’” Pham recalls, laughing while crediting her coach for keeping her in check.
Pham says she loves being outside and even gets a runner’s high. “You don’t get bored like on the treadmill at the gym.” And afterward? “I feel fit. And because I work so hard, my choice of food is a lot better.”
Of course, Pham still carries the same burden of any parent who runs. Her short shorts really bug her sons, ages, 24, 18 and 14.
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