Running helps women set goals, gain strength

By Donna Stephens Originally Published February 21, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 20, 2013 at 10:09 a.m.
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Eilish Palmer

Pictured are Women Run Clinic State Board members, front row, from the left, Linda Starr, Women Run Arkansas ambassador; Karen Buckner, secretary; Jackie Stone, membership; Tambra Clement, state clinic director; and Nichole Bates, president; and back row, from the left, Jennifer Welter, race director; Jennifer Marks, treasurer; and Jane Hambuchen, pasta-party chairwoman.

— Four years ago, Dona Flippo of Heber Springs swore she would never run.

Since then, she’s learned to never say “never.”

Flippo, 58, is director of the Heber Springs clinic, part of the 16th Women Run Arkansas running and walking clinics, which will begin the week of March 4 and, after 10 weeks, culminate in the Women Can Run/Walk 5K in Conway on May 11.

“I went to my first clinic four years ago,” Flippo said. “I had been working out at the gym; I had said I would never run. But I started to work full time and decided for my schedule, I needed something besides the gym.

“I was hooked. I’ve been running ever since.”

At press time, 42 clinics were scheduled at locations across the state — the same number as last year.

“A lot of women say, ‘I’m not a real runner,’ but you are,” said Tambra Clement, 50, of Conway, the new statewide coordinator for WRA. “What I liked about it was the method that we teach. It builds you up and allows you to walk. It’s a run-walk method, and at the end of the day, unless someone has some real physical limitations, everyone can do it.”

She said last year, 5,099 women registered for the clinics, and about 2,050 finished the race.

“A lot of women start [the clinics] and don’t finish, but we try to encourage them if they miss one or two sessions to come back,” Clement said.

The free clinics generally meet twice a week with participants expected to work out a third time on their own. According to, the clinics are designed to meet the needs of women of all ability levels. Beginners can go from sedentary to 3.1 miles, and intermediate and advanced runners have programs with specific training goals to increase their speed.

Flippo said that when the directorship for the Heber Springs clinic became vacant, she stepped in because she didn’t want to see the program end.

“It’s a good way to meet people, and it makes you get up off the couch,” she said. “This will be my third year as director. We’re in a small community; somebody had to step up, or we weren’t going to have it.

“My first year, the weather was horrible, but last year we had a great turnout. A lot of people are still faithful to do it. They’re still running. It’s so much easier to do it when you’re doing it with someone else. You have to be accountable.”

She said she remains involved with a group of three or four women who run together year-round.

“The last two years, we’ve tried to do a 5K every month,” she said. “My next step will be a 10K. I don’t know that I’ll ever do a marathon at my age, but I enjoy running. It’s stress relief.

“I’m running for my health. My dad died of a massive heart attack at 45. I knew I really needed to do something for myself. We all do.”

The Heber Springs clinic also draws women from outside the city. Everyone is welcome. Flippo said many participants work in Heber Springs and stay for the twice-a-week clinics, which draw between 25 and 50, with about half finishing the clinics and the 5K in May.

“We have all age groups,” she said. “Probably our oldest is close to 80.”

She understands the hesitation of new participants.

“They think, ‘I don’t know anybody,’ but it’s amazing the people you meet and the friends you make,” she said. “It was really good for me.”

Even after she started the clinic, she planned to walk the race.

“But I got there, and I couldn’t just walk it,” she said. “I’m kind of competitive. And you feel great when you’ve accomplished that, and you’ve done it. It’s a great feeling, and plus, your body feels so good.”

Her experience is proof of Clement’s contention that almost every woman can be a runner. Since starting to run five years ago, Clement has run three full marathons, 15 half marathons and one 10K. She said she found that the clinics helped her by providing a plan.

“I had tried on my own, but I would try to run three miles. I didn’t know about run-walk,” she said. “You just have to build it up. The most important thing was meeting other women with similar interests, and you start finding yourself with them outside the clinic, going to races together, and the next thing you know it’s five years later.”

Elaine Doll-Dunn, 75, of South Dakota has been the speaker at the pre-race pasta party twice. She, too, preaches that women who begin running after turning 40 believe they can do anything, and she has proven 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 degree in psychology at 65.

She was the guest speaker and starter at last year’s Arkansas race.

“The first time she was here, I was trying to decide if I was going to do a full marathon, and I remember thinking if a 62-year-old can do 26 in one year, then a 46-year-old can do one,” Clement said. “Once you set that goal and you start working toward it and you do it — now a week doesn’t go by that I may be faced with a very challenging situation that I tell myself, ‘If I can run a marathon, I can do anything.’

“It’s a matter of putting your mind to it and being disciplined and training. Technically, anybody can do it if they’re physically capable. It helps your perseverance and trying to get through difficult situations.

“You realize there’s not much you can’t do.”

Online registration, as well as more information about the clinics and the 5K, is available at

The cost for the race is $20. Clinic participation is not a prerequisite.

“We try to encourage the women in the clinics to go ahead and register to have a goal,” Clement said.

The race is inspirational, with many previously sedentary women completing their first 5K cheered by friends, family members and fellow participants. Two years ago, an 87-year-old woman from Lonoke completed the clinic and finished the race. Mothers and daughters can participate together.

“There’s a lot of stories like that,” Clement said.

She said she encourages women to just show up.

“They’re apprehensive, but … [they will] realize not everybody’s eyes are on them,” she said. “They learn it’s OK to walk.

“It’s just amazing to see.”

None Donna Stephens can be reached at .

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