EDITOR'S NOTE: Suzy Taylor Oakley has a serious case of the running bug. She caught it with the start of the 2011 Women Run Arkansas clinic in Batesville, as she sped up, slimmed down and stepped out with a supportive community. She fed the fever as a clinic leader in 2012 and co-director this year, sharing her infectious enthusiasm with new runners through her leadership and her blog posts. She previewed the clinic for us in January, and now she takes a look back at how her friends have done.


Check out our archive for previous travels On the Road, and remember we invite you to share your own story, cause or advice with our members.

On the Road with Friends

Women Run Arkansas—Batesville co-director

Motivation. Inspiration. Determination. Perspiration.

A lot of words can be used to describe the 2013 women's running clinic, but my favorite is ... friendship.

Each year, a new crop of ladies — young and old, tall and short, round and thin, quiet and, ahem, loud (who, me?) — begins a new chapter in the record book of the Women Run Arkansas clinics around the state.

This is my third year to be involved in the Batesville clinic (I joined the Sherwood group in 2001, but the running bug didn't really sink its fangs into me until about two years ago). Each year, with each new clinic, I make new friends.

Sometimes we take friendship for granted, but I believe community, camaraderie and a huge dose of esprit de corps are what keep a lot of us coming back.

Friendship encompasses a lot, endures a lot, sustains a lot ... laughs a lot! When you show up in stretchy shorts and tank tops, do crazy dance moves to warm up, and let it all hang out, you've got to laugh at yourself (after all, it's not polite to laugh at others). Plenty of emotion went into this year's clinic — not to mention blood, sweat and jiggly rears.

Equal parts joie de vivre and esprit de corps in Conway, May 11, 2013.

We began with 147 participants (including coaches). Many dropped out — some because of injury, some from disinterest, some for family reasons — but we had a proud and strong group at the graduation event: a 5k race in Conway on May 11. Some of us, despite obstacles, made it to the end, and we took 43 to Conway (33 racers, 10 leaders).

For the Oakleys, the last week of clinic was an especially sweet time, because we attended the local pasta party the same day we found out that Bruce's mother had passed away (she died late the night before). At the gathering, Bruce — surrounded by many of the crazy running chicks he had coached — wore his black "Do Life" tech shirt, similar to the black tech shirts that represent our 2013 Batesville team: each depicting a stick figure in motion, each representing Bruce's joie de vivre, his love of running, his love for those who run with him ... his love for the strong women in his life.

The race was two days later, on Mother's Day weekend. What a way to remember his mom, a day to cheer on a bunch of women he had mentored for 10 weeks.

But Bruce's Advanced Runner group wasn't the only wave of chicks to represent us that day. We had chicks of all kinds in Conway.

Two of them took top honors in their age divisions:

• Clara Nikkel, 7, with a time of 29:14 (9:26 pace). Clara was one of the four youngest runners in the field, all 7-year-olds, and she would have finished in the top 10 of every age group except 25-29 (11th), 30-34, and 40-44.

• Caliene Coop, 76, with a time of 37:17 (12:02 pace). Caliene was also the oldest runner registered.

(Both of those crazy running chicks inspire me, in different ways, for different reasons.)

But that's not all! Gina Mohlke, 45, was second in her age group with a time of 27:38 (8:55 pace) and was 42nd overall! (That's out of 1,239 runners, folks.)

The Batesville clinic rocks!

But lest we give the impression that the Conway race was the only important result, let's talk about Magic Miles.

Each year, the clinic does three timed miles, aka Magic Miles. Our intrepid Ken McSpadden and his trusty sidekick, wife and clinic leader Michelle McSpadden donate their time, bring their Mac's Race Timing Service equipment — electronic chips, timing mats, loud music, the whole shebang — and time our miles for us. (What other clinic can brag that a professional timing service times its miles?)

The point of the Magic Miles is to show the ladies where they stand (or run/walk, one would hope) and how far they've come throughout the 10 weeks of the clinic. The Miles are 3-4 weeks apart, so some of the participants — especially the beginners who have never run or walked for fitness — are amazed at their accomplishments in just a few weeks. I've seen tears at the finish line of a runner's first Magic Mile, screams of delight and amazement, hugs of congratulations, the dance of joy ... if there's an emotion for it, I've observed it.

That's just what running/walking (and the clinic in particular) will do for a girl.

Thanks to Bruce Oakley, ever the statistician and obsessive-compulsive numbers cruncher (yes, he's worse than I am), I have a few Magic Milers to recognize.

The biggest improvements from this year's first MM to the last:

• Jodie Marsh, 1:51 (from 12:35.9 on March 14 to 10:44.8 on May 7).

• Becky Hopkins, 1:59 (from 14:54.0 on March 14 to 12:55.3 on May 7).

• Tammy Bryant, 2:33 (from 15:26.8 March 14 to 12:54.0 on May 7).

• Donna Johnson, 2:43 (from 15:26.9 on March 14 to 12:43.6 on May 7).

All four were first-time clinic participants. Way to go, ladies!

And, because our theme today is friendship, I have to tell you about my friend and former running buddy Dana Dowell. (Former because I can no longer keep up with her!) Dana saw the biggest improvement between last year's and this year's Magic Miles. She dropped 3:38 from her mile (11:09.1 last year to a smokin' fast 7:31.7 this year). Way to tear up the trail, Dana!

And while we're patting people on the behind, let's not forget the honorees at the Batesville pasta party. Each year the Batesville clinic gives two awards. Recognized this year were:

Spirit Award: Jodie Marsh. Yeah, she's my friend!

Betty Baggett Award: Dwayne Dickey (clinic coach and support team member for clinic Director Suzanne Dickey). Betty Baggett was the founder of the Batesville clinic.

And to all the ladies, fast and slow, who showed up every week — no matter how cold, hot or wet the weather — I salute you, and I'm proud to call you my friends.

If you missed out on this year's Women Can Run/Walk Clinic and want to get in on the action next year, let us know. We need good coaches, participants and cheerleaders. Did I mention that it's FREE?