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Going the distance runs in the family

Elisa Zwanenburg (left) and Al Richmond (right) engage in their favorite father-daughter activity, marathon running. (Courtesy photo by James Frank) Elisa Zwanenburg (left) and Al Richmond (right) engage in their favorite father-daughter activity, marathon running. (Courtesy photo by James Frank)

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Elisa Zwanenburg vividly remembers cutting up orange slices as a child and going to pass them out to her dad as he ran by in the Marine Corps Marathon.

Today, she runs with him.

“It’s such a bonding experience, and I don’t know that I’d do it any other way,” Zwanenburg said. The Texas resident and her father, Al Richmond, have run the Marine Corps Marathon together for the past six years. In fact, in 1976, Richmond helped organize the first Marine Corps Reserve Marathon, as it was called then, and has participated in all 42 of them. He’s also completed another 10 marathons, including three Boston Marathons.

“It’s a lot of fun to have her with me,” said Richmond, a retired Marine Corps Reserve officer who lives in Arlington, Virginia. “It helps me get through it.”

According to Lindsay Buckalew, health promotion director for Air Force Space Command, there’s evidence to back up Richmond’s statement.

“When people exercise together, there’s a psychological component” and “a benefit to the mental health side,” said Buckalew.

He noted that many runners experience a “runner’s high” when their endorphins kick in while running. Buckalew, who runs at lunch to relieve stress, said that it improves his mood, and that running can also improve mental health and brain function.

Richmond agrees, adding that his muscles and mind are in good shape and his overall physical condition is also good.

“He’s 26 years older than me, and I can’t fathom doing marathons at his age and doing well,” Zwanenburg, a software project manager and the mother of three boys, said of her 79-year-old father. “He’s done amazingly well. It’s very inspiring.”

Richmond completed his last marathon in six hours, 50 minutes, but said he used to be able to run 21 miles in four hours. “It takes an awful lot of training,” he said.

The duo is celebrating Father’s Day a week early in Texas this year for Zwanenburg’s son’s high school graduation. And running together is at the top of the weekend’s agenda.

As a Marine, Richmond ran all the time. Today, he has to plan for it. With the geographical distance between them, Zwanenburg and Richmond can’t usually train together, so their Father’s Day run was extra special.

While training includes putting in the miles, the pace and character of a training schedule depends on the runner. From May to October, Zwanenburg engages in two short runs during the week and a long run on the weekend.

 “The longest run I do is a 16-miler,” said Zwanenburg, who was a sprinter in high school. “But my dad is always running a marathon before the marathon.”

One thing they do agree on is the “run walk run” philosophy of running, which includes running for minutes, then walking for 30 seconds. When you do this, Richmond says, the body doesn’t tire as easily, because you’re using a different set of muscles when you walk.

“It’s a psychological thing for me at my age,” he said. “Instead of knowing there’s two more hours of this, I know I can walk.”

Buckalew explains that since running is an impact exercise, it strengthens joints and muscles. For younger runners, he said, the focus is on cardiovascular conditioning, but as you get older, it shifts to maintaining muscle mass and bone density.

But regardless of a runner’s age, one thing is certain. “There’s not a single pill that does as many positive things as exercise does, and running falls into this category,” said Buckalew. “There’s plenty of evidence that show the positive effects.”

Richmond agrees, and credits the Marines with having taught him a “doggedness and tenacity” that enables him to keep going.

“(I learned that) if you’re supposed to do something, then you do it,” he said. And he’s passed that on to Zwanenburg.

“He’s instilled in me a ‘you can do anything you set your mind to’ attitude and a stubbornness that you can get through anything – I definitely got that from him being a Marine,” said Zwanenburg.

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