Road Runners on the Move Since ‘74

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(Courtesy of Denny Weigand)
Howard Jones and Karen Sturges, members of Orinda Road Runners soak in the beauty of a local trail.

    They get up to run at 5:45 a.m. four days a week (7:30 a.m. on the weekends) and among them are folks between 85 and 95 years old. That’s the regimen of many who belong to the popular running group, the Orinda Road Runners. 
    Jerry Wendt and Bob Campbell started the club in 1974 when they were turning 40 and decided they should get back in shape. Road Runners quickly gained a following. Running was beginning to be a more popular sport due to American Frank Shorter winning the Olympic Marathon in 1972.
    The group now boasts some 100 members, including five who are turning 85 this year. The oldest is 95. Members have participated in triathlons, marathons, long-distance bike rides and mountain-climbing treks.
    Patty Hung has done the Boston Marathon 33 years in a row.
    “The secret to a long productive life is to be active, surround yourself with friends, do things together and support one another. That’s what we do,” said longtime member John Fazel.
     Norm Pease, who was named the 2019 Runner of the Year by the club, joined in 1982 and is still keeping the pace. He can’t begin to calculate the miles he has run, but credits the club for keeping him at it. 
    “They are so supportive of one another —and interesting people too. We have coffee after our runs so really have become great friends. Many of us have traveled together to run all over the world.”
    In 1987 Laurie Reich joined the group as a way to train for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. For many years, she did the early morning run before she went to work. 
    “It was a high pressure job and being in the out of doors and exercising helped me prepare for it,” she said.
    Reich’s special memories include doing the Kilimanjaro climb with Norm and Janet Pease to celebrate Janet’s 50th birthday. Other climbs include Mount Elburs in Russia, Mount Whitney and Mount Shasta. Her travels with club members include walking across England, Morocco and Greece. 
    Here at home, Reich is now walking with the Saturday group as is her husband, Rudy. He said, “We start out together and sort ourselves out to the speed we are going. In the end, we all regroup at one of our coffee shops in the Lamorinda area. I’m 86 now so this suits me better as I’ve had to quit my biking career which was how I began with the Road Runners in 1999.”
    Tom Sturges joined the group in 1984 and admits he doesn’t run as far or as fast as before. “In fact many of us older ones are now walking, but we’re out there. In the past, I’ve run 24 marathons. Other Road Runners helped me train for these. Running long distances with them made it much easier.”

(Courtesy of Denny Weigand)
Five of the women Road Runners: Linda Wendt, Betsy Barsarmian-Teman, Carol Lowitz, Sam Louras and Caron Larkin.

    Kim Overaa said some of her best memories are training for marathons.  “You would never think you could run one — and then you could. Training is the key,” she said.
    “Actually, what got me started with Road Runners was that I wanted to do a triathlon,” Overaa recalls. “I could swim and bike but didn’t know how to run. My friend Steve Israel said I could learn with Road Runners, so I joined.  Another plus — I met my husband there.” 
    Overaa said the group does more than ‘”just running around Lamorinda” There are lots of parties, member Karen Larsen is starting a book club, and most importantly, she said, they look out for each other. “If someone is sick or has a problem, everyone rallies around to help. It’s a close-knit group.”
    It was a farm in Iowa where John Fazel began running as a kid. “I’d tell my mother I was going for a run and she would ask, ‘How far?’ To my answer of around the block she’d then ask, ‘Which one, 4 miles or 6?’ I ran in high school and college and was running by myself when I moved to Orinda. I’d go around the BART parking lot in a one-mile loop because it was lit at night so I could do it after work. One day I ran around the community park and saw people having a group party to celebrate runners going to the Boston Marathon. I joined then and there.”
    Bikers are now included in the mix. Debbie Miller has done the ride to raise money for AIDS 10 times and raised thousands for this cause.
    Road Runners have also been involved in a number of local projects. They started the Orinda Trail Council in 1984 and the Orinda Hiking club was an offshoot of that, according to Fazel. They’ve helped build trails in the Orinda Oaks Park and many trails for the Regional Park District and EBMUD. They also put on the Miramonte Foot Feat race for 10 years to raise money for the Miramonte Booster Club. 
    “That was way back when we had kids there,” Fazel recalls. “This evolved into the 4th of July Fun Run.”
    Membership is easy: Just show up at one of the runs. The cost is $20 a year per person/family but newcomers are welcome to try out the club for free.
    Runners meet 5:45 a.m. Tuesday at Papilion (67 Lafayette Circle, Lafayette), Wednesday (Gepettos 87 Orinda Way, Orinda), Thursday (SiSI, 910 Country. Club Drive, Moraga) and Friday (Starbucks, 470 Moraga Road, Rheem).  
    For more information, contact John Fazel, runmtns@prodigy.net.

(Courtesy of Denny Weigand)
Bob Montgomery overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge after a hike.

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