Running does a body and mind good. Just ask three relatively new runners who have stepped outside their comfort zones and into the world of distance running.

New runners learn training is not easy

Running does a body and mind good.

Running does a body and mind good.

Just ask three relatively new runners who have stepped outside their comfort zones and into the world of distance running.

Over the last several months, these three runners learned training for a race isn’t always smooth. Their paths were littered with time and family commitments, nagging injuries, negative mind chatter and Mother Nature’s unpredictable behaviour.

But the runners say the challenges will be worth it when they cross the finish line at the Woody’s RV World Marathon and Half Marathon in Red Deer on May 19.


Toni-Lee Johnstone, watched her mother, veteran Red Deer Runner Diane Goodwin, compete in marathons for years. But it wasn’t until Johnstone listened to Born to Run by Christopher McDougall on an audio book that she signed up for her first marathon.

“I love to push the envelope for what I am capable for doing,” said Johnstone, 37. “I really believe our bodies were designed for running and running long distance.”

Johnstone, an executive assistant and mother to a five-year-old son, said she is running in the memory of a friend who killed himself about six years ago.

“It is about living,” said Johnstone. “It is about being alive. It’s about putting the juice back into life. My goal for Woody’s is to have an open, happy heart and to be smiling.”

Her five-times-a-week running habit has turned into a spiritual journey where she challenges her limiting beliefs.

Johnstone said she wants to encourage others to challenge their own limiting beliefs and to step outside his or her comfort zones.

She said when her mother qualified for and then ran in the Boston Marathon in 2002, she didn’t think much about it. Now she has a whole new appreciation for her mother and anyone who has trained to qualify for a marathon. She wanted to run her first marathon in Red Deer because it is her hometown.

“I am so inspired and humbled by the heart of the Woody’s marathon committee,” said Johnstone. “There’s no better place to do my first and to have the support. It’s my hometown.”


Learning to run in her late 50s was never on Wendy Wheeler’s bucket list. But when a friend encouraged her to lace up last year, she channelled her inner Usain Bolt. Wheeler pushed away the self-doubting fears of “Is everyone going to laugh at me?” or “I can’t run. I’m not a runner” and signed up for a learn-to-run clinic.

“Some days are better,” said Wheeler, a Red Deer College nursing instructor. “Some days are worse. Times are improving. My distances are improving. I am pretty pleased with the progress.”

Last October, Wheeler ran a 10-km race in Edmonton, but Woody’s will be her first 10-km race in front of family and friends in her hometown. Wheeler had run a bit in the 1970s when she was a medical assistant in the military and her ex-husband urged her to hit the trails. But some minor injuries kept her from pounding the pavement for decades.

In the ensuing years, she has noticed a change in the “run until you drop and run through the pain” attitude. Wheeler said it is encouraging to see more and more fun runs, walk/run events and children and families running together.

“I think people are getting the message, yeah perhaps I could try that,” said Wheeler, 59. “There’s no pressure to run the whole way. I could walk if I need to.”

Wheeler said she doesn’t see herself running more than 10 km at this point because 10 km is still a challenge. She loves the camaraderie, support and meeting her regular running group three times a week. She offers advice for those wanting to start running at any age — start with a running program, run with a group and make the commitment.

“It has certainly improved things for me like body weight, fitness, mood, energy levels,” said Wheeler. “I think there is a lot to be said about going out and sweating three or four times a week and getting your heart rate up there.”


Les Simpson watched his wife run six Woody half-marathons before he decided to join the fun. Simpson started running with his wife, Carol, in 2002 but he fell off the running bandwagon. Sure, Simpson ran a few 10 -km races but the 47-year-old doubted his ability to double his distance.

“I didn’t think I would be able to do that long of a distance,” said Simpson, a Blackfalds resident. “I am finding that I can. I have learned that your body can do wonderful things if you look after it.”

Simpson said his wife encouraged him to run Woody’s but she never pushed him. This year, something just clicked and he made the commitment. He runs with a Running Room group about five times a week and sometimes with his wife.

“It’s nice to get out and run with other people,” said Simpson. “You learn from other people, too.”

Simpson, who works as a production supervisor at a feed mill, said running releases more than just sweat. He says it’s a great stress reliever. He said the long runs were tough this winter and he looks forward to the opening of the Blackfalds fieldhouse next year because it will include a running track.

His goal for Woody’s is to finish with a smile. Simpson says if you want to start running, you have to start somewhere.

“You just put one foot in front of the other,” said Simpson. “Anybody can run. You don’t have to be fast. You just go. Even if you walk, you walk.”

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