Women's Fitness 5k - Recap

A three-part story by Irene Bond Anderson, Martha McSims, and Judie Watson

History of the Women's Fitness 5k

by Irene Bond Anderson

What a treat to return to Urbana and experience the 32nd running of the Women’s Fitness 5K Run/Walk as a participant. I was overwhelmed with how special it was to participate in this all-women’s event, an event that started from a small idea and that has come to mean so much to so many.  

Background: My name is Irene Bond Anderson. I am/was a townie, a 1977 graduate of Urbana High School, former part owner of Body n’ Sole Sports, aka “the shoe lady,” and one of the original founders of the Second Wind Running Club. Yes, that’s right. I was there that fateful day at Ann and Al Morris’s pool, alongside Dennis Lewis, Gene Wicks, Tom Jordan, and Gene Pitcher. Not sure if Jim Yost or Jim Atcheson were there or Dave Cobb—I am not sure of the entire cast of characters, but I remember that first meeting vividly, where the idea of Second Wind was hatched.   

I am also the originator and first race director of the Woman’s Fitness Run/Walk (a role I filled for 5 years), first organized in 1986. For context, 1984 was the first Olympic Games that allowed women to run races longer than 1500 meters. Joan Benoit won the very first Women’s Olympic Marathon—just two years prior to our first running of the WFR. Crazy… and even in my high school time (1973-77), local press showcased the inclusion of the first female (actually two, but one dropped out) on the all-male Urbana High School cross country team, courtesy of title IX ruling by the court system. The reality of that momentous occasion was one of reluctant inclusion, as my good friend and “guinea pig” Paquita Zuidema, remembers. Even though she was a hero to me, she reports a less rosy picture in which she was not allowed to be in the team picture and suffered other painful moments of ostracism.  

A Race Is Born: When I first purposed the idea of the Women’s Fitness Run, I was told in a half-joking way—“wasn’t this sexist?”—which I cheekily answered with an affirmative, noting now the shoe was on the other foot (pun intended).   

To be honest, I originally purposed this idea out of a frustration: of all the road races I had won, I’d never had the reward of breaking the tape while crossing the finish line as first overall female. This small somewhat selfish motive quickly transformed into something much more meaningful. Enter Judy Yost and Kathy Vance, who went to bat for the WFR and found sponsorship money for this little idea!! And of course Mike Lindemann, a stalwart force in the land of race organizers, contributed his invaluable services as well as Second Wind Running Club.   

At the very first running of this race, we were blown away by how many women of all ages participated. The spirit of appreciation and exhilaration was enormous. What a treat it was to witness these participants testing their prowess in an athletic event, many for the very first time in their lives. It was profoundly moving. Many reported that while they had been running or power walking for a while, they felt intimidated by other road races that included men; but in this all-women’s race, they felt supported.  

Fast Forward to October 1, 2017: This year the stars aligned and I was excited to be able to be at the WFR as a participant, as I now live in the Chicago area. My running days behind me, I entered in the walk division. I was overwhelmed to be recognized and appreciated as the founder by current director, the indefatigable Jan Seeley.   

The weather was perfect, and returning to Crystal Lake Park sparked so many positive running memories for me. During the warm-up, I met a woman 91 years of age who was registered to walk and who was a returning participant. She was there with her daughter, who was also walking. Then I was amazed to meet a 79-year-old woman who was eager to let us know this was her first athletic event EVER! What a treat to hear their stories and witness their enthusiasm and trepidation. These women are testing themselves in ways that were not available to them in their earlier lives. As we lined up to start the race, Jan kindly introduced me to the crowd as the originator of the race. And so it began.   

It was an unparalleled experience to participate in my first all-women’s race. Women along the course recognized me and thanked me—over and over. It was a struggle to stay focused on my walk and not be overwhelmed by the flood of emotions that arose. After the race, a younger woman approached me and shared that she had grown up doing this race with her mother and she loved it for the “all women” component. She now works at Crisis Nursery and also wanted me to know that this organization has received a total of $20,000, thanks to this race.   

I am so very grateful to Jan Seeley and Judy Yost for keeping the race alive, as well as the support of Second Wind Running Club and of course Mike Lindemann of Body n’ Sole Sports. Clearly, there is still a need to protect this supportive space, as it continues to offer a safe space for woman to push themselves to new heights at any age. Thankfully younger women can’t even imagine a world without sports for all. But it is not such a distant memory for all. The spirit of the Woman’s Fitness Run/Walk still reminds us of this history and the powerful changes that can take place on a local level—all from a small idea.  

Being a Mentor for the Beginning Women  

by Martha McSims  

When Magdalena asked for volunteers this past summer to lead the Beginning Women’s Running Group, I jumped at the opportunity. I thought it was the perfect way to give back to a program that jumpstarted my joy of running a year ago. I knew I didn’t have a lot of running experience, but I knew I would have great mentors to back me up.   

I felt really bad that I was injured the whole time. But, what I lacked in being able to run with these wonderful women, I made up with encouraging and motivating them in any other way that I could. And, of course, this program doesn’t succeed without the wonderful and experienced mentors that we have.   

Magdalena produced a wonderful walking/running plan, and it was great to see the women challenge themselves and improve week to week. I loved the optional runs during the week because it gave me an even bigger chance to get to know these new runners and hear their stories of why they chose to join the group. I learned some pretty inspirational things about these women which made leading the program even more special.   

The program targeted the Women’s Fitness 5K on 01 October 2017. Jan Seeley does an unbelievable job in coordinating this entire event. I loved running it last year, and I loved being a part of it this year. I will admit, in the beginning, I was pretty bummed that I wasn’t able to run it this year; however, that completely changed when I showed up the day of the race. It was a great feeling to see all the women runners excited about running their first 5K, or excited to try to run better than their last 5K. I had absolutely the best time cheering on all the runners, and watching them cross the finish line. I could not be any more proud of these women. Each of them did an amazing job, and I look forward to watching them continue their running journey. I will continue to help in any way that I can.  

My First 5k !  

by Judie Watson  

Hello, SWRC members,   

My name is Judie Watson and I began my health and fitness journey in February 2016 at the age of 46. When I started working out, the only thing I did was walk. As I lost weight, got more fit, and increased my confidence, I slowly began adding in a variety of other group classes at the Danville YMCA including Zumba, HIIT, kickboxing, and boot camp. After losing over 70 pounds, I set a new goal….I wanted to run a 5K! I have never been a runner and had no clue where to begin. I tried the couch-to-5K apps, but never was successful getting past the first few days. I am not a person who likes to work out alone and always push myself much harder when in a group. So, when I saw the Beginning Women’s Running Group (BWRG) on Facebook, I knew this was the perfect opportunity for me to reach this goal. I signed right up and attended each week of the 8 week session in August and September. In week one, I joined the “walk 2 minutes, run 2 minutes” group since the longest I’d ever run at one time was only a few blocks. I was nervous, but as I met the various members in the group, I quickly relaxed because everyone was so nice, supportive, and encouraging. By week three, my group had progressed to “walk 1 minute, run 3 minutes”. By week 5, my group was running the entire way out and back! – and much to my surprise, I could do it, too! By week 7, I ran for 40 consecutive minutes, something I never thought was possible.   

On October 1st, I ran my first 5K at the Women’s Fitness 5K and finished with a time of 32:47. It was a great race to support a great cause and the perfect race for a new runner to not feel “lost in the crowd”. When I signed up for the race in late July, my initial goal was to “run as much as I could and finish in under 40 minutes”. I was able to well exceed my own early expectations mostly due to my participation in the BWRG. It was there that I met some amazing people including our group leader, Martha, and some of the fabulous mentors including Jan, Lynda, Sisi, and Shirley just to name a few (there were so many!). It was awesome to be part of a group that encouraged, challenged, and celebrated each member’s accomplishments no matter how great or small. As we were told, “a mile is mile no matter the pace so just keep running!” I am looking forward to getting to know more members of the Second Wind Running Club at the Fun Runs and other events. I’m not sure yet what my next goal is, ... maybe a 10k, who knows! Regardless of the next goal, I look forward to conquering it with help and support of my many new running friends in the SWRC. 

This story originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of In Passing.