If you receive an invitation to Paula Ferre's next birthday party, you might think twice before accepting.
To mark her 60th birthday Dec. 3, Ferre slipped on her Hoka Kailua running shoes and met a handful of friends in the near pitch-dark of 6:45 a.m. outside her Concord home. Embarking on a 60K (38.96-mile trek), Ferre ran until 3:20 p.m.: eight hours and 35 minutes.
Four days later, she planned to add the remaining 21.04 miles in San Diego, where she was born and lived until moving to the Bay Area at the age of 14.
Ferre's East Bay run was a charm bracelet -- a loop with quick stops to tie bows on trees and poles at significant landmarks, like former homes in Concord and Pleasant Hill; Pleasant Hill's Fleet Feet and favorite running club meet-up locations; her and husband, Mike's, alma mater, Concord High; and John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek, where their three children were born.
"We also stopped at Dana Plaza, where I had a country gift store," Ferre says, a day after her eight-hour, mobile party. "It's a smoothie place now."
Back in the late '80s, Ferre was a young mother, physical, but not really an outdoors athlete.
She and Mike, now married 39 years, met in the neighborhood. Amusingly, her older sister was dating him, then "ditched him -- kaput," she says, and swiped her boyfriend.
Consoling each other, Mike invited Paula to attend a Led Zeppelin concert in San Francisco. After that, they were hooked on each other.
Their lives had little to do with the outdoors or the area's trails and running paths. Mike was a Chevron tanker driver and "a car nut," Ferre says.
She loved sewing, teaching dollmaking classes and raising her kids.
Tragically, their second son, Kevin, lived only four hours. The loss brings immediate tears, as does the memory of a recent run on April 15.
"The Boston Marathon was really emotional for me," she says. "I came in as the first bomb went off to my left and the shrapnel was coming across me. When the second bomb went off, I looked back. I thought it was where my husband and family were. The volunteers kept pushing us through the corrals, so in my head I said I just had to get to our meeting space. It was chaotic and scary."
Ferre's family escaped, uninjured, and she says the tragedy turned the nation's running community in to a family. She is going back next year "to show everybody we run and this isn't going to stop us."
That same determination explains how Ferre came to be running a 60K distance on her birthday. Twenty years ago, she began walking the Bay to Breakers.
The slow pace "drove her nuts" and she and Mike began running instead.
When her daughter, Jennifer, joined "Team In Training's" endurance sports training program to raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, she tagged along and learned how to run.
"It just hit me," she says. "I now run about four marathons (26.2 miles) and three ultras (32-62 miles) a year."
Because she's had serious knee difficulties -- seven years ago, she nearly gave up running -- Ferre works with a chiropractor and does cross-training with a trainer.
She averages 25 miles per week; two weekday runs of five miles and a longer, eight- to 22-mile weekend run. Her mileage goal for 2013 was 1953 (her birth year).
On her 60th birthday, she exceeded her goal, reaching 2,158 miles.
Barbara Bossard, Ferre's 85-year-old mother, says she initially didn't want her daughter to run.
"I thought it wasn't good for the body, but obviously, it was," Bossard says.
In 2008, Ferre's good health and organ compatibility made her the perfect match to donate a kidney to her mother, who had been on dialysis for five years and wasn't a prime candidate for a transplant.
"I didn't want her to do it," Bossard says.
"I was concerned about her, but my husband had Alzheimer's and I had to be better for him. Paula is strong and she kept at me."
The transplant was a success.
The same tight bond with her family is engendered with her running buddies, Ferre insists. "Maybe it's the shared passion, or encouragement on a bad day. I've met people whose paths I would never have crossed," she says. But Ferre likes to run alone, too.
The solitude of her favorite trails on Mount Diablo is spiritual, and running without music ("Safety -- you can't hear someone coming up behind you," she warns) allows her to do important planning.
"I think about shoes," she says, laughing. "It could be boots, too. I get a pair of shoes after an ultra. For the 60 miles, I might get Uggs."
On the day after her run in San Diego, she planned to rest. Ferre's not crazy, after all -- she's just 60.
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