The Bolingbrook Fun Run Club, which now boasts 200 members, started last year with a single runner.
Gladys Najar started a Meetup for Bolingbrook runners in July 2011. At first, the club only had two members. Andy Weller, who Najar credits as vice president of the club, was the only other person who would show up week after week.
But he told Najar he believed that with time, others would come. And they did.
Running for a reason
Seven members of the club will run the Chicago Marathon on Sunday. It will be the 20th race for Najar since she started running in Jan. 2011, but her first marathon.
Bolingbrook Fun Run Club members will run for a variety of charities on Sunday, including the Children's Oncology One Step At A Time Camp, St. Jude Children Research Hospital, American Cancer Society, Ground and Colitis Foundation Of America and Rock and Rawhide, a New York-based animal shelter.
The marathon runners are:
Carolyn Garner Berna, Andrew Wells, Michael Hogan, Sherry Needham, Kelin Fulkerson-Smith, Abe Garza and Gladys Najar.
The turtles and the rabbits
In the Bolingbrook Fun Club, there are both "turtles," or slower runners, and "rabbits," the faster ones. "Some of us are fast, and some of us are slow," Najar said. "But we all help one another."
Najar said she started the Bolingbrook Fun Run Club because she's a slower runner. She tried running with another club but would get lost and left behind.
Members post on the group's Facebook page when they need encouragement. Some of the more experienced runners mentor the beginners, and members of the club consistently participate in 5K, 10K, half-marathon and marathon runs.
The group runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the year, sometimes in Greene Valley Forest Preserve, sometimes at Waterfall Glen and sometimes just around the neighborhood. The group spans from a 22-year-old to an experienced marathoner in his 70's, Najar said, and newcomers are always welcome.
The club is free for members and is sponsored by Road Runner Sports in Naperville. The group has a monthly run at the location, where the store raffles off sporting goods for members.
Najar said the runners in the club quickly lose their headphones on group runs.
"We talk while we run," she said. "You want to listen to your body and your breathing and be aware of your surroundings...I always make friends when I'm running."
Her first marathon
Najar said she started walking for exercise after her doctor told her she had high cholesterol and was pre-diabetes. She started running in Jan. 2011 and "has never looked back." Najar has lost 80 pounds in the process, she said.
She's run 20 races, she said, because others in the club want a running buddy.
Najar plans to spend the first half of the Chicago marathon socializing and talking with others. Then during the second half, she'll focus on her form and building up speed. Najar told the other runners to write their names on the front of their shirts so the crowd can cheer for them.