Zero is bad enough for any sedentary person hoping to get in shape, but someone who's a minus faces a greater challenge. Minus? Well, smokers for one.

Exercising vigorously with clogged lungs adds a puffing, extra effort. Loaded on too many pounds can land folks in the minus category, too. For them, it's tough just to reach a zero starting point.

But it can be done.

Sister Marion Irvine comes to mind as a prime example. In her late 40s, she was a two- and three-pack-a-day smoker carrying 190 pounds on a 5-foot-8-inch frame when a niece, worried about her health, talked her into an easy jogging program. Within a couple months, she quit smoking; then the weight began dropping.

After another few months, she was no longer jogging; she was running.

Some men she passed while running around Lake Merced in San Francisco one evening urged her to try competing in Masters Track (for runners older than 40).

She did, and her efforts paid off to the max. As she advanced into her early 50s, she was setting American and world records for women over 50 at various distances from 5,000 meters to the 26.2-mile marathon.

She even qualified for the open Olympic Trials by racing a marathon in 2:51.2.

Sister Marion represents one of the best success stories in physical fitness these ears have ever heard.

Health note: If a person is overweight big-time, a physical checkup at the doctor's office should precede donning running togs.


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And while a sensible diet is helping to melt the pounds, long walks come next. Then a mix of run-walk-run-walk.

OK! Now we're running. Rule one: Leave the watch at home. Don't time yourself for at least two or three months.

Be content to build the mileage gradually until you can handle a 3-mile jaunt while still able to talk with a companion.

Hopefully you're running efficiently -- body erect, arms swinging easily in a relaxed "L" position, with feet landing slightly heel first so the whole foot grabs the ground and pushes you forward.

Some argue runners should land on the balls of the feet. This runner disagrees.

As famed coach Mihaile Igloi taught us, "You run like you walk. You don't walk on the balls of your feet! Don't run that way!"

The key, however, is landing "lightly" heel-first. Good runners tend to be silent runners. Stand curbside at a major race and listen as the front pack glides by. One hardly hears them.

Back to the minus people: This isn't meant to be a put-down. I know how easy it is to drift into bad habits. (Coffee, waffles and bakery munchies -- been there; done that). But our goal should be not only living long, but being fit enough to enjoy those added years.

Contact Joe King at alamedanews@bayareanewsgroup.com.