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Center for Health & Fitness regulars fulfill marathon pact

| Date Posted: 1/28/2011

Center for Health & Fitness regulars fulfill marathon pact

Ivy Harris (seated) and Debby Barden, both running enthusiasts and longtime members of the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness-Troy, recently ran their first marathons. Harris ran the New York City Marathon in November, and Barden ran Charlotte’s Thunder Road Marathon in December.

TROY – Debby Barden knows that something is up – usually something challenging – when her friend, Ivy Harris, begins a conversation with “Listen, Debby, I’ve been thinking….”

Not long ago, Harris found herself “thinking” about getting her friend to join her in running a marathon. Not just any marathon, though: Harris had her sights set on the New York City Marathon, the world’s largest.

As it happens, and with the luck of a participation lottery, only she got to run in the Nov. 7 Big Apple event. But Barden upheld her end of their marathon pact by taking on Charlotte’s Thunder Road Marathon on Dec. 11.

“It was awesome,” says Harris of her marathon experience. Barden tacks on “incredible, brutal, crazy.”

According to Bob Nelson, manager of the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness-Troy where the two women are exercise regulars, Barden and Harris have inspired the Montgomery County community with their energy and enthusiasm. Barden is 61, and Harris is 57, but age is no barrier for these two exercise and running buddies.

“They’ve encouraged a lot of people to push a little farther than they might usually do,” Nelson says. “They’re here at least three times a week. Age doesn’t mean anything to them.”

Both women grew up in Troy, where Barden taught Latin for many years and Harris was an elementary school counselor. They had always known each other but weren’t close because of the four-year age difference. Things changed when the passion for exercise became a part of both their lives.

“We’ve gotten to be good friends since we’ve begun exercising together,” Barden says.

Barden has been a regular runner since the 1970s when the likes of Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter inspired the nation to a running frenzy that continues to this day. Harris started later, at age 49, after a decade as a confirmed walker.

“I had been running on the treadmill at home,” she says. “It went from there.”

The two discovered their mutual interest in running and began to investigate competitive events – doing a half-marathon together at Disney World and even winning $250 each after taking their individual age divisions in the Inside-Out Half-Marathon and 10K in Cary last spring.

One thing led to another and a “Listen, Debby, I’ve been thinking” conversation led to their placing their names in the New York City lottery. Although each had vowed that she would run only as a team, there was no question about what would happen when just Harris was chosen. Barden encouraged her friend to run, and Harris – a firm believer in the here and now since her mother’s sudden death in a car crash – had to agree.

“I’m not a person who stops in the middle,” Harris says. “I had to do it.”

“If you are given a chance at a marathon, you do it,” says Barden.

Although she doesn’t advise taking on New York as a first marathon, Harris found herself participating in an incredible experience in a city that “loves its marathon.” The race started on Staten Island with 45,000 runners and ended in Manhattan’s Central Park after winding its way through all five New York boroughs.

The few familiar faces included Harris’s husband, daughter, son-in-law, 4-year-old granddaughter and “a slew of friends.”

Even getting to the staging area turned into a memorable experience that included a 20-minute taxi ride, 40-minute ferry trip, quarter-mile walk to a bus for runners and then a 20- to 25-minute bus ride.

“You were exhausted before you started,” says Harris.

But not so exhausted that she didn’t do well: Her goal was to finish the race in less than five hours. She did it in 4:48.

Not to be outdone, Barden was in Charlotte barely a month later for her Thunder Road experience – a route that begins in downtown Charlotte and “loops through lots of lovely old neighborhoods” with a brush past the Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium before the return to the business district.

Unlike Harris and her marathon-like start to her New York day, Barden was able to walk out of her College Street hotel and easily up to the Charlotte race’s starting point on Tryon. Her fellow runners – 10,000 strong – included participants in a pre-holiday “Jingle Jog” as well as 5K and half-marathon runners and 1,290 marathoners.

Barden’s husband and sister-in-law did the “Jingle Jog,” while her brother joined her at the marathon’s 13th mile and Harris checked in at the 18th.

When handicapped for age equivalency, Barden’s finishing time of 5:13 equals 3 hours 47 minutes. “I was not the last finisher by any means,” she says.

Although awed by their experiences – “You love it and you hate it,” Harris says – both women say their first marathon won’t be their last. A March 20 race in Wrightsville Beach is already on their calendar.

To prepare, Harris works with a trainer in Charlotte and Barden “piggybacks” on what she learns. Both also continue a strenuous exercise regimen at the Center for Health & Fitness, where Barden teaches aerobics, step and various other fitness classes.

“The FirstHealth Center is really a great asset for the community and for us,” she says.

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