Rock the Block running group pushes beginners to go extra mile

Sunday, July 12, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA -  Steve Cutforth runs briskly with his running group and reaches the end of the MKT Trail before everyone else. Cutforth, who is  still full of energy, runs back to the other members who have not finished and then runs with them until they reach the end.

Sharon Smith falls behind the group. Her knees get sore and her feet start to ache.  But despite not being able to keep up with the rest of the group, Smith keeps on going until she reaches the end.

Smith and Cutforth are part of the Rock the Block running group in Columbia. The group is for people with little-to-no long distance running experience.  The group trains from February until July when members gradually run longer distances as they gain more experience.  

The goal of Rock the Block is for members to compete in and finish the Joker's Wild Half Marathon (13.1 miles) held in St. Louis  Sunday.

Cutforth, 48, and Smith, 59, struggled with running and health issues before entering the group.  Now both have adapted to long distance running, and have goals to go beyond  just finishing the Joker's Wild.

Smith started exercising later in life. In 2004 she joined a track group in Moberly.

"In my generation, exercise was not a big thing," she said.  "I grew up under the impression, 'Why walk when you could ride a horse?'"

On March 8, 2007, after a 30-minute light cardio workout, Smith was short of breath. Her head started throbbing and her hands became numb. With no one at  home to help her, she drove herself to the hospital and found out that she had a minor heart attack.

"I thought I was having a stroke," Smith said. 

According to Smith, her doctor said her low good cholesterol level caused the heart attack, resulting in blockage in her arteries.  It took Smith four weeks to fully recover and she shied away from physical activity until she joined Rock the Block in February.

She was hesitant in joining the running group at first. After 22 weeks training with the the group, she now she plans on finishing the Joker's Wild race.  She also plans on participating in races in the future such as the Roots 'N Blue's 'N Barbeque Festival Half Marathon in September.

"At first, I thought, 'I had a heart attack I can't do this,'" Smith said. "My husband thinks I belong in the crazy house for trying to do this.  I have lost weight, my blood pressure is down, and I am in the best shape I have ever been in. "

Felicia Tompkins, another member of the group, praised Smith for her persistence and dedication to the group.

"The fact that she goes out there and does this at her age is inspiring," Tompkins said.  She's a spitfire, she is not going to let anything hold her back."

Cutforth, 48, is accustomed to being in front when the group runs.  He has been consistently exercising his whole life. 

Prior to joining the group, Cutforth had participated in many cycling events such as the Multiple Sclerosis 150 and the Show-Me State games race, and he also competed in two half marathons.

A coach of the group, Allison Drapeau, saw Cutforth's natural athletic ability in cycling. She convinced him to participate in his first half marathon last year.

After the race, Cutforth began long distance running on his own four days a week, but because of his running inexperience he ended up injuring his right hip.

"I trained too hard and too fast," Cutforth said.  "It was very frustrating."

Cutforth said he joined the beginners' running group to learn the proper way to prepare to run long distances and the proper technique for running.

Cutforth said he has one ultimate goal in mind and that is to compete in the Boston Marathon next year. 

After he runs in the Joker's Wild race, Cutforth plans to compete in the Waddle and Reed Marathon (26.2 miles) in October in Kansas City. 

To qualify for the Boston Marathon, Cutforth will have to finish the race in 3 hours and 30 minutes ( requirement for the 45-49 age group).

"I like to have many goals and I am going to train hard to qualify for Boston," Cutforth said.

Smith will stay in the group after the Joker's Wild Marathon, while Cutforth plans on leaving the group and running on his own.




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