THE GREAT OUTDOORS: RUNNING

Running: A Q&A with Theresa Penney

June 24, 2012 

"You actually like to run?" is a question Theresa Penney, up front in a blue hat, hears when people find out she is a runner.

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com Buy Photo

  • Speaking of trails... Hiking trails abound in the Columbia area, offering everything from a stroll along the rivers downtown to a jaunt through one of the last old-growth bottomland forests in the country. Here are hiking suggestions for the area: •  For an easy, picturesque hike, try the Three Rivers Greenway, which is a collective name for all of the paved trails along the downtown sections of the Broad, Saluda and Congaree rivers. The best sections include Riverfront Park in Columbia and the Cayce and West Columbia Riverwalks. • The top nature trail network in the area is at Congaree National Park in southern Richland County. The 2.5-mile boardwalk trail gives a good taste of the park’s huge trees and amazing biodiversity. To get into the edge of the old-growth forest, try one of the longer dirt paths — the 11.1-mile King Snake Trail or the 10.4-mile River Trail. •  Sesquicentennial State Park in Northeast Richland, Dreher Island State Recreation Area in Newberry County and Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve in Lexington County have sweet, short trails. And Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve in Lexington County offers an interesting walk through unusual sandstone formations.
  • More information How popular is distance running in Columbia? The new Columbia Marathon and Half-Marathon drew 546 runners for the longer race and 759 for the shorter this year, and the Palmetto Half-Marathon drew 934 runners.

Editor’s note: We asked Columbia outdoor enthusiasts to share, in their own words, a favorite recreational experience. Here, Theresa Penney talks about running.

“You actually like to run?” is a question I hear a lot when people find out I’m a runner.

Surprisingly, yes, I love to run!

Columbia actually has a pretty big running community. There are several groups you could join at different levels and intensities. You just have to find which one fits you best.

I found my niche with a group named 621 Ninja’s. We meet Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 5:30 a.m. and Saturdays anywhere from 5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m., depending on the season. That might sound crazy early, but the majority of the people that run with this group have families with young children. It’s the only time of the day most of us can fit it in.

I’ve been running with the group for about five years. In those five years I’ve made some unforgettable memories, including one that stands out. On Nov. 3, 2011, I got to run with Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson. Joan was in town for the weekend to be a guest speaker at the Governor’s Cup road race and of course wanted to get in a few miles on the pavement while here. One of my friends from 621 Ninja’s, Steven Johnson, was asked to put a small group together to guide Joan through Columbia. I was one of those lucky people, along with friend Amos Disasa. Steven called me up the day before we were to run and asked if it would be OK to go in late to work that Thursday morning. When he said it was to run with The Joan Benoit Samuelson, I knew I had to make it OK. Luckily my boss is a runner, too.

The plan was to do an “easy” eight miles touring Columbia that morning. I was so excited to run with Joan. I couldn’t wait to hear about her adventures and soak up her knowledge as an Olympian. The first mile was maybe about her and her accomplishments, the second mile was about ours, and the last six miles were about family, current events and just life in general. Joan is a pretty amazing woman. She has a husband, two grounded kids, and an Olympic gold medal. Family has always been a priority for her. After winning the first Olympic women’s marathon in 1984 she put off the 1988 Olympics to raise her young children, Abigail and Anders.

Listening to Joan gave me great respect for her as a wife and a mother. Balancing everything together can be tricky, and running provides a balance for it all. I’m blessed to have found a running group of moms and dads who have to raise a family, work a full-time job and still find time for running. We have a core group of about 20 people that can grow as big as 40 in the summer. It makes running fun and not a chore to stay in shape. We even try to get together outside of running. When folks are having babies, we throw a shower. When a family member passes, we go to the funeral for support. We’re also hardcore. We run in everything from torrential downpours when all you can do is laugh because it’s so ridiculous to even be out there to snow storms when all schools and state agencies are closed for the day.

I’ve definitely met some really amazing people that I will keep in my life forever, even when I’ve fallen apart and can’t run anymore. All this in the little city called Columbia.

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