Meeting up early one morning recently for coffee with Jim Owens and Vinnie Kelley, I notice these guys are fit. Solid. Not an extra ounce of fat. Well, okay, between the two of them maybe an ounce, somewhere. Jim is the president of Santa Fe Striders, a local running club 200-members strong, and Vinnie is a longtime member. But when we get talking, I also notice they are very easy going. It’s refreshing. So often we turn play into work––we get serious about it and, poof, there goes the fun. For Jim and Vinnie, running is as much a part of life as taking a breath. They love the sport and the benefits and, while maybe years ago they were driven to excel, now they do it for fun.
Santa Fe Striders was founded in 1978. “One of the original members,” says Jim, referring to Dale Goering, “who is still a club member, he’s in his mid-80s now. He was running with us a little bit last year, but he still gets out and walks and rides his bike every day just about.” Today, the club sponsors four workouts every week, each focusing on a different type of running. They also sponsor a summer youth program, and several races over the year.
I’ve seen club members on the Windsor Trail in the Sangre’s and always marveled at them. “In the mountains, there’s usually a lot of walking, hiking for me,” says Jim, laughing. “Vinnie can run up the hill, but I can’t.” The hill Jim refers to is Santa Fe Baldy. From the Ski Basin parking lot (elevation: 10,380 feet) to the summit, is about seven miles and a 2,900-feet cumulative ascent. He continues nonchalantly, “but we get out there and have a good time.”
“The range of runner that’s shown up at the workouts,” says Vinnie, “has gone from Olympic hopeful to walker.” Jim’s heard people say, “A running club? I’m not fast enough to join a running club,” but he sets the record straight. “We encourage people to come out and do what they want. If you want to walk it? Okay. If you want to push it? That’s okay, too. We have people that will push you. We break it into slower and faster groups. The exact same workout. So we really encourage people of all skills to come out.”
“Certainly, we’re a very inclusive club,” says Vinnie. “There’s competition in the club, but that’s far outweighed by the social desire to get more people to run.” Vinnie’s been a member for some 20 years. He continues, “What attracted me to the Striders, I was competitive at that time but now I’m older and [being a member] means I’m going to run more often and have more fun doing it. I’m going to have other people that share…” and he laughs, “the affliction of running.”
The membership is about a 55- to 45-percent ratio women to men. “The average age is going to be in the 40s,” says Jim. There are a handful of members in their 20s, and Jim continues, “We have two guys for the Tuesday night workouts in their early 70s.”
Vinnie has been running competitively since he was a kid. He ran his first marathon in Boston when he was in high school. He grins and talks about the Striders track workout. “I try to sneak competitive running techniques into it. If I presented a competitive, highly disciplined workout that was designed to make everyone run an optimum 5K, I think it would put people off. But I try to frame it in a more accessible, more fun way. It was interesting for me to learn the range of psychology of runners. I tried to make [the workout] easier for the slower runners, and that actually backfired. The slower runners loved the idea of completing the entire course and feeling they’ve done the same amount of work as the super stars.”
I ask Jim and Vinnie what it is about running that keeps them doing it. “For me,” says Vinnie, “it’s always been something I liked; I like the social part of it. I like the solitude. It’s a seriously important balance in life for me. If you get wound up at work or at home, it’s a perfect way to get yourself away from just about everything. But telephones. You can’t get away from telephones anymore.” I suggest he could leave the phone at home. “That’s true!” he replies. “Getting away,” he continues, “your brain can finish thoughts you don’t tend to finish. You break out of ruts in other things in life. Go to work, get the paycheck, buy the groceries, go to work, get the paycheck…You get in that loop, it’s really important to go running and have some time to think, ‘Now wait a minute.’”
“And how many miles a week do you run?” asks Jim. “Thirty to 40?” “I’m up over 50,” says Vinnie, although he admits he can’t run them as fast as he once could. Jim as well has been running since he was a kid. “I was never competitive. I was quick, but never fast.” In his career, Jim did a lot of traveling. “But,” he says, “I always ran when I traveled. In fact, usually I would go out for a run right after I got off the plane and checked into a hotel. That would actually reestablish my circadian rhythm. It minimized the jet lag. By doing that, I could go anywhere in the world for one week and jet lag wouldn’t bother me. Starting two weeks and it would catch up.” These days, he puts in about 25 miles a week.
For people thinking about getting into running, Jim says, “Don’t overdo it to start with. Start off doing a walk-run. Run for 30 seconds and walk for two minutes. Then slowly run for a minute and walk for two minutes. You just do this walk-run combination until you build up to it.”
I’d always thought running is hard on the body. Fact or myth? Jim answers matter-of-factly. “If you run, you’ll probably get injured.” For those new to running, “Your lungs and your muscles will actually start responding faster, to get in shape, before your tendons and your joints. People have a tendency to say, ‘I’m feeling pretty good,’ and then actually overdo it. And then they get injured, and say ‘I can’t run because I’ve had this injury.’ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hurt my ankle, or a knee has bothered me, and I wonder if this is it, [if] I’ll never be able to run again. And you just sort of work through it and take it easy and you get back into it and you always seem to recover.”
Vinnie makes a good point, adding, “Something like 88 percent, according to Runner’s Magazine, [of] people are running for weight loss. If someone goes from being on the couch to being a five-time-a-week runner, the amount of benefit compared to the risk of injury is a great ratio. Having better lungs and cardio vascular and pulmonary just improves everything, every part of life.” He admits, “There is definitely the pervasive risk of minor injury in running.” Looking at these two guys who have been running for years however, it’s hard to argue it’s not good for you.
Further on the subject of running being tough on the body, I inquire about shoes. Running shoes seem to be a big deal. Vinnie answers. “There’s a certain simplicity to running,” he says, “and in shoes, if you keep it simple, it doesn’t matter. Running, you can just do it. Yeah, in the club we have a range of folks who advocate the softest shoe possible, the most protection possible, and then we also have people who run with no shoes at all. And we have people in Santa Fe who grew up running on used shoes that were probably worn out the day they got them who now aspire to win the Boston Marathon.”
Jim talks about what makes Santa Fe a great place to run. “Different runners like different things,” he says. “You’ve got some people that want to run on a track but not on a trail…Any type of running that you like, whether it’s track, whether it’s trails or going into the mountains, [it’s] a great place to come to.”
“I would say, especially in Santa Fe, it’s not necessary to have a goal,” adds Vinnie. “It’s not necessary to have the same motivation as what you might read about. If you want to run to lose weight, to see the mountains, to increase your social circle…If you want to run competitively, you can try any of those here.” For those interested in joining the club, he says, laughing, “No degree of talent is required.”
If you’re thinking of getting into running, no matter what your capability, the Santa Fe Striders start their track workout March 15 at Santa Fe High; their family-oriented Run Around Race is held May 21. For more information, visit santafestriders.org. If you’d like to run or walk with some cool people, join the club.
Story by Gordon Bunker