By: Jacqueline Palfy
“I know a lot of people who can’t, and being able to is a privilege for me. You’d be amazed at what you can do.”
Linda Helgeson isn’t sure what got into her in about 2008, but now she is 50 years old and loves running marathons.
How it all started
She was in her early 40s at the time, hadn’t particularly grown up athletic. She played a little softball. Had an on-again, off-again relationship with various gym memberships, often followed by dinner out.
But then she decided she wanted to run a 5K, so she cobbled together a plan in her head and carried it out on her treadmill. It was enough to get her to the finish line, but not enough to make it fun.
“The race was on gravel roads and corn fields,” Helgeson says. “Training on the treadmill did not prepare me for that. It was rough, but I finished.”
She figured she had crossed “run a 5K” off her bucket list and was done.
5K led to more
But just like most people who run a race, what happened instead was that she was hooked.
A few years later, she did the local St. Patrick’s Day races in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Then in 2014, she realized it was time to make her health a priority -– and road races was how she was going to do it.
She set a goal for herself: To run 15, 5K races in 2015. It gave her a reason to be consistent with her running. Soon she discovered an online community of women runners and began joining their group runs, connecting with others who ran her pace.
“There was some accountability,” Helgeson says. “You don’t want to leave someone in the dark, alone.”
The social aspect was part of the joy, but so was the travel. She and her husband would drive to various small towns so she could run their road races.
“I would do a 5K, and he would go find coffee and donuts,” she says.
50 year old running marathons
When she turned 50, Helgeson decided she needed a new goal: The half-marathon. She and her sister went to Madison, Wisconsin, to run a race there, and she just kept setting more goals: To do a race every month, to run a marathon.
One goal was to honor her son and his service by running the U.S. Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, which she did in October 2017.
“It was powerful, and it was amazing,” Helgeson says, tearing up and talking about the sense of pride in the event. “They have a blue mile for fallen soldiers, and I was running through that and sobbing. You knew what you were supporting and what they had given for our country.”
Her son was stationed across the country and couldn’t go, but he spoke to her soon after she finished, to say how proud he was of her.
Next month, Helgeson plans to run the Sioux Falls Half-Marathon.
It’s all part of a chain of events that have helped her stay in shape at age 52, and helped create a social circle that keeps her accountable.
“The support and love there is the coolest thing I’ve ever run across,” Helgeson says. “This keeps me going and trying new things.”
As for her training for her next race, it’s a little off track, but she isn’t worried.
“I’m lucky enough to be doing it,” she says. “I know a lot of people who can’t, and being able to is a privilege for me. You’d be amazed at what you can do.”