Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
Boston Marathon Course section
  The Westwood Running Club, led by Helen Smitley, left, starts off a 15-mile run through Westwood Center, training for the Boston Marathon. (Globe Staff Photo / John Tlumacki)


Marathon runners find motivation in clubs

By Judith Forman, Globe Staff Correspondent, 1/10/2002

WESTWOOD - In February 1999, Amy Wayne was running around the block in her Westwood neighborhood. Seven months later, she was pounding the pavement in her first marathon.

Wayne, who now lives in Newton, took the 26.2-mile challenge after running into members of the Community Running Club during a Saturday morning jog. As she passed the runners, club copresident Helen Smitley invited Wayne to meet the group afterward for their traditional breakfast at Westwood's Cafe Diva. Wayne showered, changed, and headed to the local eatery, where Smitley convinced her she could handle a marathon.

That fall, Wayne, 46, finished the 1999 New York City Marathon in 5 1/2 hours.

"It was such a self-affirming thing," she said last weekend, over yet another post-run breakfast at Cafe Diva. "You feel like you can almost conquer anything after that."

These days, Wayne is still on the road with the Community Running Club, heading toward the granddaddy of all races - the Boston Marathon. She is just one of scores of runners from communities south of the city training for the oldest non-Olympic marathon in the world.

With April 15 just over three months away, athletes from across the region are bundling up and getting serious about training. Some do the long runs, speed work, and weight lifting alone. Others, like Wayne (who is actually preparing for a 20-mile race next month and the 2003 Boston Marathon), band together to train.

Jennifer Pike of Dedham is one. The 38-year-old mother of three has run the New York and Marine Corps marathons. This year will mark her first stab at Boston. She joined the Community Running Club two years ago when she was looking for "something local which could help motivate me to get out the door."

The group, which draws most of its runners from Dedham, Westwood, and Norwood, "is great support," Pike said. "It makes it easier to do the distance running when you're talking. Just having the company makes it go by faster. You don't focus on your aches and pains so much."

Cohasset resident Michael Pieroni is the head coach at the Boston Athletic Association, the group that organizes the marathon (this year is the 106th running of the race). About 100 people, some from south suburbs including Norwell, Easton, Pembroke, Plymouth, and Norwood, have started on a 16-week training plan with Pieroni and his two assistant coaches. Training, which is for BAA members who are experienced runners and have likely qualified for the marathon, includes weekly track workouts, bi-weekly long runs, and recommendations for weight training, stretching, and nutrition.

Locally, Pieroni takes runners to the Wompatuck State Park in Hingham to do loops on the bike paths and trails. Some of his group members train on trails through the Blue Hills in Canton.

"Living here in the South Shore, it's so omnipresent," Pieroni said of the Boston Marathon. "It's just held in such high esteem by everyone."

While there's no dominant running organization south of Boston, Pieroni said, there are a handful of strong local clubs and informal running groups that can make training more bearable.

"Training in the winter can be difficult," he said. "The loneliness of the long distance runner is sort of an absolute. Groups help you stick to a training schedule and get through the tough workouts."

And, he said, January marks "just about the right time you want to start getting serious about it.

"Whether you're with a group or by yourself, you need a plan to follow."

Beyond offering motivation and support, clubs gives new runners "access to people who have been there, done that," said David Dobrzynski, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America, a national organization based in Alexandria, Va., that boasts about 200,000 members in 700 different chapters.

There's also room for fun, he said.

"The fact of the matter is that many of these clubs are social clubs," said Dobrzynski, who has been running for 30 years.

Take John McGourty of Dedham and his Thirsty Irish Runners, a group he founded about five years ago. In addition to doing speed work on Thursdays and long runs on Sundays, the club's members do community service at the Dedham Food Pantry, run a track program for local children, and organize group social events.

The club's roster comprises between 12 and 20 runners - mostly men - from Dedham, Westwood, Milton, and Scituate who meet twice a week. Five or six are training for Boston, although McGourty isn't doing this year's marathon because he missed his qualifying time.

"You forget about what you're doing, kind of," said the 42-year-old electrician, talking about group running. "All of a sudden you've banged out a good workout."

McGourty has run Boston 10 times. Once, in the early 1980s, the then Navy petty officer caught up late with his ship in the Indian Ocean so he could stay behind and run the race.

"If you're a runner, Boston is mecca," said Rob Naser of Dedham, a member of Thirsty Irish Runners. "It just has such a long history and a storied past."

Naser, 39, has run Boston three times: in 1991, 1992, and 2001. He's now training for this year's race with the group.

"It gives you the extra inspiration to get out on days you might not get out," he said. With the demands of work and parenthood, he said, it's not always easy to schedule a workout.

But for Naser and his wife, Camille, running is a way of life. While they were dating, he said, their relationship bloomed in part because of their shared love of the sport. Camille Naser is also a marathoner and her husband has issued her a challenge: He'll give her $100 for every minute under four hours it takes her to finish the Vermont City Marathon in May.

"I hope I can always make [running] part of my lifestyle," Rob Naser said. "I want to stay physically fit. It's a great part of my life."

Beth Corry of Bridgewater also works hard to balance marathoning with motherhood. The stay-at-home mother said she's able to do her long runs because of a supportive husband and other relatives who step in to watch their 4- and 6-year-old daughters.

Corry ran Boston last year, and has just started training for this year's race after some time off following Rhode Island's Ocean State Marathon in October. She hopes to run Boston in 3:30, 11 minutes faster than last year.

Once a month, she meets up with the Bridgewater Running Club, a group of between six and 10 people, for a 5K race.

"It was great," Corry said of her first Boston Marathon. "The support along the way is unbelievable. When you finish, it's a huge accomplishment."

Corry is proof that marathoning is not just for the elite. She didn't start to run until four years ago - when she decided at age 33 to get back in shape after the birth of her second daughter.

"I guess I was a late bloomer," she said, laughing. "I just really enjoy it."

Others stay motivated by running for a cause. Community Running Club's Sarah Spencer, 34, of Norwood, is running for the American Liver Foundation. So far, she's raised more than $1,900 for the charity. Rob Naser, of the Thirsty Irish Runners, is running for a friend who has ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Five months before the Boston Marathon, members of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge start training. Runners' meetings, social events, and parties soon follow, said Jack Fultz, the winner of the 1976 Boston Marathon who's now a training adviser to the nearly 400 runners who participate in the challenge. All together, the runners hope to raise $2.62 million for research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Between 60 and 65 of this year's Dana-Farber runners will come from the area south of Boston, Fultz said. The challenge started in 1990 with 19 runners who raised $51,000.

"Many people who are from the area . . . see [the marathon] every year and because of the media coverage they are made aware of the significance of the event," he said. "It starts to captivate people's imaginations. Just the sheer challenge of running a marathon symbolizes overcoming adversity, doing a lot of work, and meeting a challenge they've set for themselves."

Fultz, by the way, won the '76 race with a time of 2:20:19, on a day that featured 96 degrees at the starting line. He placed fourth in the 1978 marathon and ninth in 1977.

Weather is one of the toughest parts of training, agreed Ed Groden of Westwood, who has been running with the Hurtin' for Certain Striders Track Club since 1972.

The group has about 40 members, mostly from Westwood, Dedham, Norwood, Needham, Wellesley, and Boston.

"You're picking what might be the worst month to train for the marathon because of the weather unpredictability," he said. "One of the problems with Boston is you train through the winter months when it's cold and you might get that first 70-degree day in April. If it's the first warm day, it's often a problem for people from New England."

Groden's group meets twice a week for long runs, interval training, mile repeats. He has run 12 marathons, including Boston four times.

Back in Westwood, Wayne and members of the Community Running Club chit chat at the cafe after their Saturday workout. They eat bagel and egg sandwiches and drink cup after cup of coffee. For many that hot coffee is the inspiration to keep going through the morning run.

Club members who are not running Boston this year talk of plans to volunteer at the water stop on the ninth mile.

Wayne, the runner from Newton, said whenever she worked a water stop or stood on the sidelines cheering, she dreamed of joining the race. That was before she became a runner.

"Now I'm in the race and not the bystander anymore, and that sort of carries over into my life as well," she said. Running "gave me strength to do a lot of other things in my life."

Judith Forman can be reached by e-mail at She is running her first half marathon later this month and is training for Boston.

Race Day Coverage
Stuck at work? Check out out stride-by-stride webcast for up-to-the-minute Boston Marathon updates.