Twelve weeks ago, 23 determined women formed a sisterhood and embarked on an arduous journey they would later describe in "divine" terms.
Their goal: A healthier lifestyle.
To achieve this, they turned to Felecia Brown, a local running enthusiast who has participated in numerous competitive road runs – including the New York City Marathon.
But unlike Brown, most of the women – who range in age from 13 to late 50s – had never participated in a competitive road run, much less run for fitness or participated in a regular exercise program. So when first approached by Gwen Blakely to start a women's running group, Brown was a little hesitant.
"It was during my (marathon) training season when she asked me about doing it, so I was really busy. Plus, the weather was cold, and a lot of times people aren't as committed to exercise when it's cold," Brown said. "I've formed running groups before and a lot of time people will say they want to do it, but after awhile they stop showing up."
Blakely assured Brown that would not be the case with this group.
Not only did the women stay the course, yesterday they participated in a 5K run.
"This is the first time I have been dedicated to a fitness/exercise program," said Lisa Brewster, one of the 23 women who have dubbed themselves "Divas on the Run." A Type 2 diabetic, Brewster can now jog 30-plus minutes without stopping.
On March 5, the women began training. Two groups were formed – one met at 5:30 a.m. at Northcrest Church, the second at 5:30 p.m. at Bonita Lakes. Their daily training started off very slowly.
"If it's done too fast at first, it doesn't seem attainable to the person and they become frustrated and are more likely to quit," Brown said. "I constantly emphasized that this was not a weight-loss program, but a fitness program. You might lose weight in the process, but the goal is to learn to run for a healthier lifestyle. You'll feel better, have more energy and gain self confidence."
Workouts were 30 minutes – 2 minutes running, 4 minutes walking. As the group progressed, their running/walking times increased.
"Once they could run 14 minutes non-stop for a couple of weeks, we increased their run time to 30 minutes," Brown said.
In addition to words of encouragement from Brown, the women were rewarded with incentives – little running-theme happies, special drawings and Diva T-shirts, as well as water and sports drinks.
"Anything just to keep them motivated," she said.
Four weeks into training, calisthenics and weight training was added to the fitness regimen, which now extended to an hour. When the women were able to run 30 minutes nonstop for a week, Brown presented a new challenge: Run 3 miles – at their own pace.
"Some of them could run 3 miles in 30 minutes; others couldn't. I told them it didn't matter about the time, I just wanted them to finish," she said. "When we first started, some of them couldn't run 30 seconds without stopping. Now, they can 30-plus minutes without stopping."