Two Salem women prepare themselves for Sunday’s Cascade Half-Marathon.

REID ENGLISHSalem Statesman Journal, January 9, 2004

TURNER — Cindy Fineran and Gigi Merrill enjoyed a new format for running so much during the past 12 weeks that they are excited for their big test Sunday.

The Salem women will be among an expected field of more than 250 runners in the Cascade Half-Marathon at 9:30 a.m. at Cascade High School.

Fineran and Merrill discovered a new experience during John Gallagher’s half-marathon clinic: running in a group.

“It was a real eye-opener,” said Fineran. “I had always run on my own. It was a great way to meet new friends. It made the distance go by quickly.”

Merrill, 39, said she had never been much of a group runner during her running career in the past 10 years.

“The 16-mile run we did was motivating,” she said. “I’m usually tired after a run like that, but I didn’t have that trashed feeling this time. I’m excited about the program.”

Race director Mick Evans said he believes the weather could play a role in the number of participants Sunday.

“A lot of people are waiting to see what the weather will be doing,” he said. “I’m figuring it will be warm and wet.”

His definition of warm is in the upper 40s, which is about 20 degrees higher than in the past two weeks.

Last year’s winner Rick Fuller, a visitor to the area a year ago, won’t defend his title. Nicknamed the Cajun Cannon, Fuller set a course record of 1 hour, 6 minutes, 58 seconds.

Evans and many others from the clinic prepared for the half-marathon with a nine-mile run Saturday on a weather-adjusted route.

The group went from downtown Salem to Riverfront Park and Wallace Marine Park. A planned jaunt to Minto Brown Island Park was scrapped because of poor weather.

“We stayed away from trees and traffic,” he said. “There were some places where we walked because of the snow.”

Fineran, 49, had run on her own for two years before joining the clinic.

“I wanted to find a way to be smarter and avoid injuries,” she said. “The people are so encouraging and supportive. I have learned how important it is to pace yourself.”

Fineran, who will be running her first half-marathon, has a goal similar to many of finishing the race.

“When I started the (clinic) I didn’t know if I could do it,” she said. “But we’ve been on a pace where you run four minutes and walk one minute.”

Merrill had been a recreational runner until her husband, Bill, qualified for the Boston Marathon with a run of 3:07 in the Newport Marathon last June. The latter was Bill’s first marathon.

“I said, ‘Wow, that’s impressive,’” Gigi Merrill said. “My goal is to finish a marathon in four hours.”

Merrill said her endurance has improved from participating in the clinic.

“I had always been too fast at the start,” she said. “Now, I’m slower at first and I have more energy at the end. The type of workouts we do around the park and up hills I wouldn’t do on my own.”

Merrill said clinic aide Susan Gallagher has helped her improve her running form.

“I was lifting my side a little and my arms and legs were too high,” Merrill said. “Now I’m more conscious of how I hold my body with my hips forward and shoulders relaxed.”

Reid English can be reached at (503) 399-6702.