These Panola County Runners Are True 'Sole Mates'

Written by Kay Hubbard.

They haven't given their running group an official name, but there is an absolute fraternity of runners here in Panola County, as dedicated and faithful to this three-day-a-week “club” as to any formally chartered organization imaginable.

Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 5 a.m., 13 women and five men meet at Panola College, divide into groups based on the training schedule and goals they are pursuing at the time, and head off running for miles in different directions.

The ladies include Carol Cain, Crystal Mayer, Tracy Hildebrand, Robin Travis, Meagan Watson, Lacy Morris, Kristie Brady, Christina Foster, Donna Crenshaw, Denise Todd, Brandi Reed, Angie Gray, and Kim Griffith. The men are Kelton Crenshaw, Craig Travis, Stuart Lipsey, Josh Carter, and Josh Dunn.

The friends form a very diverse group of ages, interests, and years of running experience. “All of us have been running for at least two to three years,” says Carol, “but some have more experience than others. Some have been running and into sports or fitness most of their lives, while others are pretty new at it. But we have one big thing in common: we almost never miss, even in bad weather. One day we ran at the school's covered practice facility because of icy rain, but we just don't miss. And we want to encourage others to join us, even if they have never run and don't even think they are capable of it. I promise, if I can do it, anyone can! I didn't even get started until I was past 50 years old. We just love it when anyone gets off the couch and starts running!”

Tracy adds, “It is really all a mind game. You believe you can do it, you tell your body what to do, and it does it! And it quickly becomes a habit, automatic, not something we even think about whether we will do or not. We just get up and do it!” She says that when some of the group first started considering training for a marathon, it was sort of half-joking, half serious. But once the idea was voiced, they all got much more serious about their goals and commitments to specific training schedules, and several have completed marathons and half-marathons in addition to the many shorter and more frequent runs in which they participate.

Carol, Tracy, Robin, Meagan, and Crystal recently competed in Marathon Bahamas, with Crystal completing a half marathon and the others a full one. Carol says, “We were looking at possible places, and this one just popped up on the computer screen. We decided if we were going to do this thing,we might as well go to a great destination! We had a scripture reference printed on our shirts, Isaiah 40:31: 'But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.' All those precious Bahamians at the race called us 'The Isaiah Girls.' And, boy, have we found this scripture true! When we are running 26 miles, we know for sure He is carrying us, and we give Him all the credit for keeping us going and injury-free and allowing us to do this thing we LOVE!”

During their training runs, the group has had challenges with dogs, cats, and even other people who don't want them out running on their streets. “But we just keep going,” Carol continues, “always having new goals and believing that nothing is out of reach.” She adds, “This past year we have run a lot! There is always a run going on! Besides our Bahamas event, some of the others have included Northside Christian's Eagle Run, a breast cancer run in Broken Bow, Oklahoma (Tracy was the overall female winner in both of these events!), Tyler Run for Autism, Hot Chocolate in Dallas, Fresh 15 in Tyler, Diva Fun Run in Galveston, Arboretum 15K in Dallas, East Texas Half in Nacogdoches, Heroes in Shreveport (honoring firemen and first responders), and several sponsored by Sports Spectrum in Shreveport. Those include events like Fourth of July, Autumn Breeze, Mudbug, Night Christmas Run, and Pumpkin Run. Participation in these runs with these dear friends has made this one of the best years of my life, with the most fun, the most accomplishments, and the most personal satisfaction of any.”

Tracy and Crystal concur about the strong bond of friendship the runners have fostered, claiming that there is no telling how many miles the group has run together, and that while putting in those miles, they talk to each other continuously! They jokingly boast that there is no subject they have not covered, nor world problem they have not solved.

Denise Todd, who claims to be the the oldest in the group, echoes how much she has enjoyed the frienships she has made through running. “We have such a good time together, and I have made so many precious friends I don't believe would otherwise have ever even crossed my path,” she says. “I feel so blessed that at my age, I can still do what I do, and that I have been able to be active all my life.” She especially enjoys participating in charitable runs where the money she pays is going to a worthy cause, like the Hot Chocolate in Dallas, whose proceeds benefit Ronald McDonald House. She is also pleased to have been able to become a “coast to coast runner,” having run both at Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California. She describes the Disney “Dopey” she ran two years ago as the ultimate race. “I guess they call it 'Dopey' because you have to be pretty 'dopey' to do it!” she laughs. “It's a four-day event; you run a 5K the first day, a 10K the second day, a half marathon the third day, and a full marathon the fourth day. I ran it with two much younger friends, and we followed a training schedule for a long time before the event, so we didn't have trouble finishing the whole thing. The

one in California just a few months later was only three days, with a 5K, a 10K, and a half marathon.” Denise also stresses that it's really okay to just run for fun. “Sometimes I can just get 'event fatigue' and decide I'm going to take a break from entry forms and travel and 'official' things for awhile. But I keep running for fun, and to make sure I'm prepared when I am ready to compete in the next event!”

Several of the runners are part of a core fitness group that has been participating in Boot Camp with Meagan Leggett Watson for years. Now teaching Boot Camp, Barre, and Kickboxing at Panola College, Meagan voices similar feelings that the others share, “There are two aspects of running that I love the most. The way you feel, the calories expended, and the runner's high are just minimal things compared to the friendships made and the closeness I feel to God when I run! My 'sole sisters' are my family! They are my best friends! They've been through some of the best of times with me and some of the absolute worst of times! You get to know someone on a completely different level when you're running and training. We've laughed, cried, prayed, pushed our bodies to their limit, and rejoiced for finish lines together! The other aspect that I love is how close I feel to God when I run. In the silence of running a race, sometimes it's just you and God out there. I told my ladies after our full marathon that if you don't believe in God, just do a full marathon, and you'll find Him. Out on that marathon course, I don't know if I've ever felt closer or more connected to Him, other than in the miracle of my children being born. The race was emotional and exhausting and exhilarating. God revealed Himself in other runners, the Bahamians cheering, nature...everywhere. I just knew I was right where He wanted me to be, and it was exactly what I needed at that moment in my life. Running is so much more than just fitness, and that's coming from me, someone who lives and breathes fitness every single day!”

Maybe these runners could borrow Meagan's “sole sisters” play on words, with a slightly different twist, and give their motivated, energetic, disciplined group a name that fits perfectly: “The 'Sole' Mates!”