Conway race expected to attract 2,000 women

by Donna Lampkin Stephens

Nearly 2,000 women from all across the state will descend on Conway on Saturday for the 16th Women Can Run/Walk 5K, the culminating event following the 10-week Women Run Arkansas clinics.

More than 7,000 women registered statewide for the free clinics, which were held at 47 sites and began the week of March 4.

“Saturday will be a very big deal,” said Lisa Gaddy, co-director with Cathy Potter of the Conway clinic. “It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work. Lots of them have never run a race before. There’s going to be tears of joy, lumps in throats, hugs — it’s just going to be an unbelievable day.”

The 3.1-mile race will begin and end near the entrance to the track at Conway High School. The race, which will start at 8 a.m., will run through Old Conway.

“The community can expect to be invaded by women interested in doing something healthy and taking time for themselves in order to be a better wife, mother, partner, employee or any other role we play,” Gaddy said. “It’s so exciting for me to see where these women have come from.”

Gaddy knows. She participated in her first clinic two years ago. She had never run before.

“I was right shy of 48,” she said. “In the back of my mind, I always thought it would be so cool to be a runner, but I never thought it was anything I could do. Then I heard about the clinic, which was free, and I thought I could check it out.”

It clicked for her immediately.

“I got bit by the running bug bad,” she said. “I continued to run after the clinic, and last year I volunteered to be a leader because it had made such a change in my life. It was just huge for me.”

Last fall, she and Potter agreed to become co-directors of the Conway clinic.

The Conway group, which started with 656 registrants, ran a mock race over the official course Monday night during its regular meeting time.

At press time, 1,648 women were registered for Saturday’s race, but registration was open through midnight Wednesday. Last year, there were 42 clinics across the state with 5,099 registrants; 2,050 finished the race. Each clinic is divided into groups based on ability levels, with beginners going from sedentary to 3.1 miles and intermediate and advanced runners completing programs with specific training goals to increase their speed. Gaddy is a leader for the Beginning Runner B group in Conway.

“They maybe had run a little bit, but they wanted to increase their endurance,” she said. “To be in this group, they had to be able to run for a minute. We started running one minute and walking four, and last night, several ran the entire 3.1 miles. It is absolutely amazing to see how far they’ve come.”

Gaddy’s group has met twice weekly at a track, usually at the University of Central Arkansas, whereas the intermediate and advanced runners have had sessions off track. Beginning Runner B drew 170 women; Beginning Runner A had more than 200. Hill and speed work have been on the agenda for some groups; advanced runners have built to six-mile tempo runs.

She said to her knowledge, the 656 total was a record for the Conway clinic.

Gaddy said some Conway women had brought their preteen daughters to the clinics, so Saturday’s runners will range from 9 or 10 to nearly 80. In all likelihood, though, there will be some younger and some older.

The leaders will run with their groups, though without timing chips.

“We’ll still be there encouraging and doing what we’ve done for the last 10 weeks,” Gaddy said.

Male volunteers from the Conway Running Club will run as pacers, carrying signs with a designated pace time — for instance, 8-, 10- or 12-minute miles or slower.

“The pacers will dress up in a dress shirt and tie and running shorts, and some may have a tux jacket on,” Gaddy said. “It’s kind of like they’re accompanying these ladies on a grand journey. You can find the pace that is comfortable for you or your goal, and that pacer will get you across the finish line.”

Conway police officers will provide traffic control.

Gaddy had a word of advice for the Conway community:

“Be prepared for an invasion of women, and it might take you longer to get where you’re going in the car,” she said.