A running start – Group of area friends prepares for Los Angeles Marathon | TheUnion.com

A running start – Group of area friends prepares for Los Angeles Marathon

It is 7:30 on a gorgeous cold morning recently, and a group of runners takes off for a 9-mile practice run up and down the hills of Nevada City. This is to be their last run together before they meet in Los Angeles Friday to take part in the hugely popular Los Angeles Marathon.

For several in the group, it will be their first marathon ever – amazing, considering their ages range from 56 to 69.

Only six months ago, Bob Lowenthal, a 69-year-old retired engineer, was running a modest mile or two on a treadmill. His focus changed dramatically when Gayle Lossman, a personal trainer at South Yuba Club, invited him to train for a marathon.

On this day, he’s eager as a racehorse to be off and running, his GPS gizmo primed to relay vital information along the course.

Carol Judd, the youngest of the group at 56, said she never thought of herself as a long-distance runner (“I never ran more than six miles in my life”), but here she is, already having accomplished a 24-mile practice run.

Carole Browning, 58, suffered a heart attack two years ago.

When her doctor finally gave her the go-ahead after rehabilitation to do anything she wanted, running was her choice. “When I first started running,” she admitted, “it was scary, and I wondered, ‘Can I really do this?’ Now I know I can.”

At the helm of this group is Lossman, 60, and her husband, Fred, 69, both of whom have been running together since their marriage 12 years ago, with a little time out for Fred to successfully battle cancer.

The actual marathon starts at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday. The streets of Los Angeles are the course, and the distance is the prescribed 26.2 miles, which has something to do with a Greek battle in antiquity when a messenger ran 26.2 miles to proclaim victory to the townspeople and promptly dropped dead.

The group has some secrets to pass on about marathoning, especially for older first timers.

The Galloway training method is first and foremost. Developed by a former Olympic runner Jeff Galloway, it promises to take a person who can and likes to walk to being able to do a marathon in six months.

The strategy, which is mapped out in his book “Marathon,” is simple: run four minutes, walk one minute.

The secret Lossman is most passionate about, though, is the concept of supporting one another in a team approach. That means showing up when you say you will and sticking together. “We will start the race together, and we’ll end it together,” she says with determination.

Six months of intense training together has bonded the group – not only the runners themselves, but also their spouses and friends, who have done everything from prepare food after practice to running alongside for parts of runs. “Support like this,” Gayle Lossman said, “is absolutely essential (for morale).”

Lowenthal’s wife, Rochelle, a nonrunner herself, says, tongue in cheek, that it wasn’t so hard to give up her husband to a rigorous training schedule. “When Bob got out of bed at 6 on Sundays, I just said, ‘Turn up the electric blanket,’ and went back to sleep.”

In truth, she has been an ardent supporter of the group, cooking gourmet meals and offering to be its official mascot at the race. “I’m extremely proud of my husband doing this, especially at his age,” she says.

Another secret to long-distance running comes as no surprise: shoes.

“Inexperienced runners start out with inexpensive shoes,” Fred Lossman said. The shoes often just don’t fit right. One of the runners admits he followed that profile, eventually going through four pairs of running shoes until he found an $80 pair that works.

Another secret is using food as a reward, admits Lossman, who is nevertheless a Nevada County Meltdown Challenge enthusiast.

The group has gobbled down burgers after four-hour practice runs and devoured homemade desserts and chili, but that’s nothing compared to what is planned after the marathon. “We’re going to eat everything we possibly can,” says Lossman gleefully, “and we may even add some spirits to that.”

Actually, Lossman said, parallels exist between the Meltdown and the marathon. “(In both) you’re not only making a strong commitment to your team, you’re getting passionate about fitness.”

Does the group want to beat the 30,000 runners who are showing up for this race? No way. This is more of an endurance thing, not a time thing. Just finishing is a big deal, said Lossman, who has run five marathons herself. Their motto is, “We’re not racers, we’re finishers.”

What is it going to feel like when the group makes it across that finish line, a calculated six hours after the start of the race? While a couple of the runners waxed philosophical about achieving goals and such, jokester Lowenthal thinks it will be: “Whoopee, it’s over.”

Pam Jung is a frequent contributor to The Union.

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