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Clyde Beal: Best foot forward for 72-year-old runner

Jan. 06, 2013 @ 05:01 PM

Years ago, a health survey was conducted in London concerning the personnel who operate the double-decker city buses. Each bus takes two employees; one sits and drives while the other is constantly going up and down steps collecting fares and punching transfer tickets. After the study was completed and all the statistics were documented, the ticket takers won hands down. Seems a larger percentage of the drivers used more of their sick leave, suffered from more common colds, spent more time in the hospital, and were also generally heavier than their active counterparts.

Exercise has proven results providing concrete statistics for the long-lasting benefits of a body in motion. And 72 year-old Emma Chapman is a firm believer in an active lifestyle.

"About 33 years ago, I weighed 187 pounds," said Chapman. "At 5 foot 4 inches, there wasn't anything I could wear to hid my excessive weight. I'm now 50-some pounds lighter. I feel better and sleep better. My resting pulse is slower now than it was 20 years ago, and I even think I look better."

So what keeps Chapman so fit? It was exercise pure and simple. Nothing fancy, no expensive weight room, no indoor pool and no health club membership. Just putting one foot in front of the other on a regular basis. A lifestyle with a running regimen which started with a game of basketball and ended up on the trails at Ritter Park.

"When I first started running, about a block was all I could do," said Chapman. "After that one block, I was just utterly exhausted. Now, years later, I run 5 or 6 times a week. Sometimes I run for as little as 20 or 30 minutes, other times I run for as long as an hour. I just can't imagine my life without being able to run."

Chapman gradually worked her way up doing the shorter 5K races and then the longer 10K runs. Then she decided to tackle the Cherry Blossom 10-mile run in Washington, D.C., in 2007. According to Chapman, that race was the most beautiful, most expensive, most traumatic and the most painful race she has ever participated in.

"I was doing great until I decided to pass this individual up in front of me around the 7-mile marker," said Chapman. "To this day, I'm not entirely sure what happened, I either tripped or stumbled. But my face hit the road, and it hit hard. I broke my glasses, received a few scrapes and abrasions on my arms and left leg. But the most damage came from a busted lip, and the blood came dripping down my shirt. Medics pulled me out of the race, but they took so much time to provide medical assistance, I just left them and went on and finished the race. Later I went to the hospital for stitches. I figured that race cost me a little over a hundred dollars a mile."

Chapman has completed in other out-of-town competitions, but none have accumulated the lasting memories of Washington, D.C. Although not all the memories are bad -- she did mention the cherry blossoms were beautiful there.

During Chapman's early days of running, she admits each race presented its own level of difficulty. There was one particular very frosty cold race in Ironton in the early 1980s which Chapman calls her paradox race. Her reason for such a strange label was because she finished first in her age group, but she was the very last runner to cross the finish line.

"I always felt that my presence in organized races provided a good influence on other runners," said Chapman. "Many times I have passed other runners, only to have them pass me by again later. After the race some would tell me that being passed by a senior inspired them to pick up the pace."

Believe it or not, Chapman confessed to her overindulgence at last year's Thanksgiving banquet table. But she was quick to follow this up with an explanation of her normal eating habits.

"Running in itself, is not a standalone routine," said Chapman. "When you become addicted to a healthy lifestyle, it isn't just a jog here or a 30 minute run there. Your whole life changes. You meet people who reinforce your desire to run. More importantly, your diet changes for the better."

And that change begins with breakfast, which by the way, she does not skip. Always whole-wheat toast is a part of her first meal of the day, along with a spoonful of honey, bananas, oatmeal or cold cereal. Lunch might be leftovers in moderation from the refrigerator or a chicken salad. For dinner, nothing special, but the emphasis is on lean meat with an eye for moderation.

Chapman still has her original knees even though she has accumulated hundreds of training miles. She is positive her routine provides a better night's rest and a healthier lifestyle than she had when the bathroom scales where far less friendly.

One dear friend she misses is Lou Kirk who was killed while riding her motorcycle in 2011.

"We used to run together," said Chapman. "She would provide the inspiration for me to get out and run when I really didn't feel like it. Everyone who runs needs the comrade that a running partner provides, especially one like Lou."

Chapman is a perfect example of what a running program can accomplish. She says it's the one time of the day she feels in complete tune with herself. Her program is slow and living proof that running at the back of the pack burns just as many fat cells as those up front.

Chapman lists a couple of books that helped her through those early days of exercise: "Women's Running" by Dr. Joan Ullyot and "The Joy Of Running" by Thaddeus Kostrubala. She recommends them both as inspirational reading for all beginning runners.

Clyde Beal is an area freelance writer who almost finished last in Huntington's recent Jingle Bell 5K. But he did finish second in his age group. If you have an exercise program you would like to share, send your secret to Clyde at archie350@frontier.com.