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Striding into fitness
By Barbara Lehmann/ TOWNSMAN STAFF
Thursday, March 23, 2006 - Updated: 10:38 AM EST

You can do it, and they can help.
    The Suburban Striders Running Club, a group of women from Wellesley and several other local communities, offers encouragement and coaching to women at all running levels. Started in 2004, the goal of the club "is to be an all-comers club to runners of all abilities," said founder Mary Kachadurian of Weston.
    The running club meets year-round on Wednesday mornings for an hour of training and coaching. Heather McClurg and Trish Richardson, both from Wellesley, have been with the club since its inception. McClurg was hesitant at first to join the new club, fearing it would be intimidating and too competitive. But, she said, "it’s been the opposite of that - we do coffee, movies, cross-country skiing, power yoga. It’s gone beyond the hour [of the workout] to spending time together." Most of the women in the group are in their 40s, some in their 50s, McClurg said, and all are at a point in their lives where "it’s time to focus on ourselves."
    "It’s something that’s physically hard, but I never want to miss it," Richardson said, referring to their weekly training. "The women in the group are all passionate about running."
    Richardson joined the newly formed running club in 2004 because she wanted to run the Chicago Marathon - and she did, along with McClurg and six other members of the original group. Since then, she’s tried shorter distances and found that "I’m a five-miler, a track person" at heart, not a long-distance runner after all, she said.
    One of the newest members is Wellesley resident Stephanie Hawkinson, who joined last October. "I really was not a runner," she said. "The first day I was at the track, I was nervous. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. But, once I started running I found it was not about that at all. From that first day, I couldn’t wait to go back."
    Hawkinson’s goal when she first joined was to run a marathon - and she’s running the Boston Marathon this year - "but now, it’s more than [the goal]. It’s being with the other women running." And, she added, "you don’t have to worry about how much you sweat or what your hair looks like," referring to the advantages of an all-women group.
    Five of the eight club members from Wellesley are running the Boston Marathon this year, including Hawkinson and McClurg. Richardson said she has probably already run her last marathon and will not be in this year’s race.
    "Most of us are athletes," Richardson said, but added that few were track stars in high school or college. It’s certainly not a requirement, she said. One of the members couldn’t walk a mile when she first joined, Richardson said, but now, she can run three miles nonstop - and the group cheered her on every step of the way.
    "There’s something to be said about that spirit that pushes you harder," McClurg added.
    For those who are injured, the club is a support group, McClurg said. The women who are injured still come to the workouts, she said, and do other exercises to keep in shape while letting the injury heal properly.
    "I think that this is something people have come to later in life ... a passion," Hawkinson said. Along with the passion for running, the members have another bond as well. "We all have a common thread ... we’re all moms," Richardson said. Hawkinson agreed, adding that, as moms, "we are all trying to fit running into the rest of our lives."
    "The best compliment to [the club] is that people like me try to get more people to join the group," McClurg said.
    "We’re all different shapes and all of these women are runners," Hawkinson said, dispelling the idea that the women in the club all looked like elite marathon runners.
    Richardson agreed. "We are fit, normal people."
    How it all began...
    In March 2004, a group of women traveled to New York City to compete in the More (Magazine) Half Marathon for Women over Forty. The weekend focused on being with other women and running, and one of the participants was so energized by the experience that she decided to run in the 2005 Boston Marathon. Another member of the group, Mary Kachadurian said, "Why wait for April [2005] when we can do a marathon in October [2004]? Let’s get a coach, let’s have a training plan, let’s form a group." Two months later, they did.
    The group hired a coach, Cathy Utzschneider, and began meeting and training regularly. In October 2004, eight runners completed the Chicago Marathon, four ran in the Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon and one completed the Tufts 10K for Women.
    Currently, the Suburban Striders Running Club has members from Weston, Wellesley, Needham, Natick, Medfield, Sudbury and Dedham. The group meets on Wednesdays from 9-10 a.m. for training and coaching. The Babson College indoor track is used in the winter; for the rest of the year, club members run on the Weston High School track. There is an annual fee of $300 to join the club.
    The members range in running ability from runners who finish marathons in six hours to runners who finish it in three hours, and everything in between. Some do a lot of races during the year; others do little or no racing, according to Kachadurian.
    Their coach, Utzschneider, is a world-class runner, a professor at Boston University and a mom as well, according to the Wellesley members. Utzschneider "tailors the workouts toward the individual and their individual goals," Hawkinson said.
    For more information, visit the club’s Web site at: .suburbanstriders.com

Wellesley members of the Suburban Striders Running Club go for a light jog on the Babson College fields. Left to right: Trish Richardson, Julie Garvey, Kathleen Nilles, Carol Chaoui (in pink, behind Nilles) and Heather McClurg. (Photo by Matthew Healey)
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