Personal Best: Runners go the distance

“I will never forget a conversation I had with a patient who was suffering from a chronic illness when I was an intern [at UCSF in 1993],” Lisa Griffin said.

The patient described his fitness goals to her: “Walk a half-block in week one, walk a full block in week two, walk around the block in week three.”

Griffin, now a pediatric neurologist at Kaiser, credits this patient for giving her the impetus to return to running, her passion since the age of 12, and to her eventual role in 2001 as one of the founders of the San Francisco Road Runners Club.

Baily Penzotti, who serves as one of six SFRRC coaches, enthusiastically preaches Griffin’s mission: “To get the average adult interested in running as a lifetime sport.”

Penzotti ran her first 26-mile race, the Humboldt Marathon, in 6 hours, 14 minutes at the age of 51. Five months later, in March of this year, she cut her time to 5:26:00 at the Napa Marathon.

The San Franciso attorney, who trains beginners in the club’s Running 101 program, is confident that she’ll knock off another minute and qualify for the prestigious Boston Marathon in 2011.

Among the club’s 22 members competing in the 2007 Boston Marathon was 62-year-old San Franciscan Kate Thornton. SFRRC head coach Kirk Hamlin, a San Francisco sign-language interpreter, recalls proudly that Thornton and all of her teammates finished the marathon despite its near-cancellation due to 30 mph wind gusts and flood-inducing rains.

Of the SFRRC’s 410 members, 60 are competing in today’s San Francisco Marathon. Hamlin will be weaving in and out of traffic on his scooter, shouting strategy and words of encouragement to his runners. Hamlin emphasizes to his runners, “less than 1 percent of the world will ever complete a marathon.”

“There is no feeling like crossing that finish line … and all finishers receive a medal,” he said.

Club President Joe Henwood joined SFRRC six years ago, shortly after moving from Philadelphia to The City seeking kindred spirits who shared his passion for running.

“I coordinate runs, provide support and prepare the board agenda,” he said.

Henwood, Hamlin and the team of coaches, including Griffin and Penzotti, volunteer upwards of 15 hours per week to the organization in addition to their own personal training time.

The coaches work with their assigned pace groups (categorized by run times) and provide detailed training routes and schedules for upcoming marathons and other running events.

Club co-founder Griffin and Deb Holcomb are the two remaining active members of the original five who started SFRRC. Griffin had served as program director in the 1990s for Jeff Galloway, a noted marathon training developer. She said she is committed “to encouraging a healthy lifestyle by introducing more people to the sport of running in a collegial environment.”

Other members also have benefited socially. Anders Knox and Julie Hornung met when they were assigned to the same pace group for the 199-mile “Hood to Coast Relay” in Oregon in 2006. Last Saturday, the finish line became their altar when the two were married with the majority of their relay teammates in attendance.

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