RANDY PENCH / rpench@sacbee.com

Helen Baker, left, 88, and Phyllis McGee, 84, will participate in Sunday's half-marathon in Elk Grove. McGee dismissed the idea of training for the event. "We're just walking," she said.

Half-marathon in your 80s? No sweat, say two Elk Grove walkers who will form relay team

Published: Saturday, Mar. 31, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, May. 29, 2012 - 7:25 pm

Phyllis McGee and Helen Baker, both residents of Camden Springs Gracious Retirement Living, a seniors community in Elk Grove, are walking their first half-marathon this weekend.

Baker is 88. McGee is 84.

Despite the fact that they're a few decades older than most first-time half-marathoners, they don't really know why people are making a fuss about them.

"We're just walking," said McGee, a retired Sacramento teacher. "I've never trained, and I'm not training now. I'm offended by that. For 30 years, I've exercised."

The Running of the Elk half-marathon in Elk Grove on Sunday will provide a lot of exercise for both women. The plan is for them to be a relay team, with Baker walking the first 7.5 miles, while McGee finishes up the remaining distance – about 5.5 miles.

While running a marathon might be a more impressive feat, as would walking the entire half-marathon distance, it remains inspiring when fit and healthy older adults pair up to complete a distance event.

They do not shuffle their feet, these two.

"The people who start to shuffle tend to be the ones who sit all day and watch TV," said Minette Harper, who manages the retirement community with her husband, David. "You see it all the time. If you don't use it, you lose it.

"I think Helen and Phyllis have approached being seniors in the best way possible. The more active you are, the healthier you are, not just physically but also mentally and emotionally."

Years ago, before she and her husband, Tom, bought their first treadmill, she was overweight, McGee said.

Exercise helped her slowly lose pounds and keep them off.

Now the McGees are on their fourth treadmill, which she cranks up to a steep angle and walks on for an hour every weekday.

"For me, it's just a lifestyle," she said.

Similarly, Baker said she was frequently ill when she was younger, and exercise helped her keep going.

"I always had a garden, and I went out and did a lot of hoeing and picking and all that," said Baker, a widow and retired Sacramento school employee. "I've always done a lot of walking, and I haven't stopped."

She walks for an hour or two several times each week along the streets near the seniors residence. And she likes to say that her walking shoes bear the dust of the four continents where she's traveled.

Her leg of Sunday's half-marathon ends in front of the dairy farm where she was raised – now a suburban street near Franklin High School.

A Camden Springs staff member plans to walk alongside Baker during the event, and McGee's daughter plans to walk with her.

"It's a challenge for both of them," said Harper. "They're nervous and apprehensive because they've never done this before. But they're both very energetic."

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