Sole Sisters: How 9 Women Became Runners

One woman had broken her neck (twice). Others were dedicated couch potatoes. But when a powerhouse mentor came into their lives they hit the ground running and never looked back.

By Stephanie Booth
Seven female runners stretching near a treeMelissa Ann Pinney1 of 41.

The women of the running club with their trainer, Alexandra Allred (sitting on the ground, in pink shirt), Midlothian, Texas.

Mired in negativity, the women couldn’t see how putting one foot in front of the other could make a difference. Although previously they had only chatted casually before class, they suddenly spoke as one voice in opposition to Alex—who paid no attention.

Alex: I sent them on their run. I knew these women were strong, but they didn’t believe it. They needed a reason to feel good about themselves.

Linda: I got so tired. Just breathing was hard.

Michelle: Nothing moved naturally—not my legs, feet, or arms.

Patty: I was the last one to finish, but everyone in the group waited outside the gym and cheered me on. I hadn’t heard applause like that since I walked across the stage for my master’s degree, in 2006.

Alex: You know why it’s so exciting to see someone run her first mile? Because if you can run one, you can run three. Then five. Then eight. And so on.

Julie: After that, Alex came into class and said, “We’re going to run a 5K.” Then “Better yet, a half marathon!” A few of us complained, “That’s too much!” or “I don’t have time!” or “I’m out of shape!” It really sounded scary, but we agreed to keep running.

Feeling the Burn

Summers in Texas are notoriously hot and humid. To avoid the worst of the weather, the women dragged themselves out of bed at 5 a.m. or met after work to run together as many as five days a week. (Impressively, they kickboxed at the gym on the other days.) Initially, only a few made it past the two-mile marker. But as they gradually clocked in more miles, the Main Street Gym Midlothian Running Club—as they started calling themselves—stopped being afraid of failing or ending up in a heap by the side of the road. Most surprisingly, they started to enjoy running together.

Patty: If anyone had ever told me I would be getting up at dawn to run, I would have said he was out of his mind.

Linda: I didn’t believe I could ever run very far, but each time the other women pushed me to keep going.

Julie: To everyone’s surprise, running started becoming our group addiction. We were all motivated by the feeling of accomplishment. The power. The stress relief. And the camaraderie.

They developed intense friendships, all the more unusual since it would be difficult to find a more diverse cross section of women. Ranging in age from 24 to 52, the group included married women and singles, religious believers and non-churchgoers, Tea Party conservatives and Obama supporters. And yet small talk on their runs soon gave way to deeper discussions about personal challenges and even life-and-death matters.

Julie: I was struggling to get pregnant again and was so scared that I would have to start fertility treatments. The first time I admitted that to anyone was on a run.

Heather: My eight-year-old daughter, Allison, was diagnosed with bone cancer. I was devastated, and I stopped running. But the other women didn’t forget about me. They made time to call and stop by. They also organized a fun run for Allison, which raised $4,000 to help pay her medical bills. I was so touched. Thankfully, my daughter’s disease was caught early. She’s now 10 and doing fine.

 
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