Marathon runner an example 'women can do anything'

by Donna Lampkin Stephens

Women who begin running after turning 40 believe they can do anything, and Elaine Doll-Dunn is proof.

Doll-Dunn, a South Dakota woman about to turn 75, was the guest speaker and starter last week for the 15th annual Women Can Run 5K Run/Walk in Conway. The race drew more than 1,900 participants from across the state, many of whom trained for the experience several times a week in clinics since February. The clinics registered 5,280 women. Linda Starr, owner of The Sporty Runner in Downtown Conway, is the state clinic director. More than 40 towns in Arkansas participate in the program.

“I know what running has done for me,” said Doll-Dunn, who began running at 40.

Not only did she believe she could do anything — she did it.

Doll-Dunn ran her first marathon at 41; survived a divorce at 51; beat cancer at 56; climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and won a marathon there at 58; ran 60 miles across Panama, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, at 60; completed 26.2 marathons at 62 and earned a doctor of philosophy in psychology at 65.

During her doctoral studies, she researched the self-efficacy of women who begin running marathons after 40.

“Just getting women moving, they will realize how they can be in control of everything,” she said.

She will join the 50 States Marathon Club — completing a marathon in all 50 states — in November after finishing her final two states, West Virginia and Connecticut. She has run marathons on five continents, lacking just Australia and Antarctica to join the Seven Continents Club.

Doll-Dunn was a cowgirl who grew up on a ranch and played high school basketball but wasn’t a runner until July 14, 1978. That’s when three of her sons and a brother asked her to run with them as they trained for football season. She had never been overweight, and she didn’t think twice about joining them.

Then the man she was married to at the time told her, “You can’t run a half-mile.”

“I took off sprinting, and I didn’t go a 10th of a mile when I realized I wasn’t going a lot further,” she remembered. “So I hid behind a rock, then finished. I don’t think he ever knew it. But the message was you can look and feel fit and not be fit.”

From there, she ran every day for three years, which she knows now was a mistake because of the risk of injury.

Not surprisingly, she learned something important along the way.

“We as women either run for or from,” she said. “I began running for myself, and I ran from a bad situation that I didn’t even realize was bad. Now if I’m in a high-stress situation, I go out and run.”

She also learned that taking time for herself was also a gift to her children and others around her.

“If I’m good to me, I’m good for everyone else,” she said. “(Women) are the nutrition vehicles, the nurturers.”

She said her goal was to live her life so wholly and fantastically that she would be a good example to her two daughters.

“If I’m all about self-sacrificing and taking from myself always, that’s what they’ll see,” she said.

The example was illustrated nicely in April, when she, her two daughters and a granddaughter finished a half-marathon together. One daughter had run all through high school but quit running and gained weight. The other also put on the pounds. Doll-Dunn challenged them to a diet; one lost 110 pounds (and has since begun her doctoral studies at 50) and the other lost 50 pounds.

“Both my girls found themselves again,” she said.

And they think they can do anything — just like their mother.