Marie and Keith Prentice of Clifton are busy training for a fund-raising marathon, Feb. 29, in New Orleans. And nobody is more amazed about it than themselves.
Until five months ago, said Marie, "We never ran a day in our lives. And the most we biked was 15 miles — about 20 years ago." But all that's changed now, as the couple prepares to run 26.2 miles to raise money for AIDS research.
Sponsored by Care First Blue Cross/Blue Shield, proceeds raised by the Prentices' efforts will benefit the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C. And to ensure that they'll be able to successfully complete the event, Marie and Keith are undergoing the National Aids Marathon Training Program.
IT'S A SPECIALIZED, six-month regime of training and endurance based on a program developed by professional marathon runner Jeff Galloway. The Prentices began it, right after Labor Day, and have three more weeks to go.
They decided to enter a marathon, in the first place, explained Marie, because "middle age set in. I'm 41 and my husband is 49, and we felt like we were gaining weight and not getting enough exercise. And we chose this marathon because we wanted to raise money for this organization. AIDS is killing a lot of people, so running this marathon is for a good cause."
It'll be her first visit to New Orleans, so she's especially pleased that the race course will follow a scenic route along a canal and by the Superdome, as well as historic sites.
"It's a run/walk event," said Marie. "And, given that it's our first marathon ever, I thought it was wise to start out slow. They give you up to seven hours to finish."
In preparation, every Saturday, she and Keith go downtown and run with about 150 people from throughout the Washington Metropolitan area. The same thing happens each Sunday, with 150 different people, as some 300 area residents ready themselves for the race.
"We meet on Water Street and run from downtown Washington, all around the monuments and mall, along the C&O Canal and all the way to Bethesda," said Marie. Because of the running, plus other exercise, she's now lost 20 pounds and can run an 11-minute mile.
"They require you to go to a gym, every other day, and work out, 30 minutes," she said. "I go to the Burke Racquet & Swim Club. You run, 30-45 minutes, on days you're not at the gym. It works out really good because it's not a strenuous workout."
AT FIRST, said Marie, "You're not sure you're gonna make it, and you think the others will be major athletes. But they turn out to be everyday people." That's why the training program is so successful, she explained, because "it builds morale, camaraderie and support around you so you can complete the marathon. And you also learn about your body so you don't hurt it before the marathon."
Her husband works all day, so he runs once or twice a week in their neighborhood. But it's fine, said Marie, because he's in a slower-paced running group than she is.
"I've never been a part of anything like this before," she said. "So I think it's so phenomenal and inspirational that they can get all these people to come out for something they might not have, otherwise. There's a coach, a team leader to organize everything and a person to give you pointers on the fund-raising. And the training program helps you reach your goal — and you feel so good about it."
Now, said Marie, with just three weeks left until the marathon, "The anxiety is killing me. I'm ready to do it, already." And she and Keith have already come a long way.
THEIR SATURDAY runs began with three miles and increased two miles each succeeding week. "Around the eighth week, we went from 10 miles to 16 miles, then back down to seven miles and up to 18 miles," she said. "It gave our bodies time to rest, in between the long and short runs. Three weeks ago, we did a 23-miler, then eight miles, then 10. And next Saturday's run will be 26 miles."
She figures the toughest part of the actual marathon will be "not getting overwhelmed with the crowd, and racing, instead of pacing myself." The best part? "Just the accomplishment of finishing." Next, she'd like to run in the Marine Corps Marathon.
But meanwhile, she and Keith each have to raise $2,700 for this event. They've gotten $1,000 apiece, so far, from families and friends, but time's running out.
To contribute, send checks payable to National AIDS Marathon, P.O. Box 66258, Washington, D.C. 20035-6258, designating either donor DCNO-3215 (Marie) or DCNO-3555 (Keith) on the memo line. Donations may also be made online at www.aidsmarathon.com.