Economy's rough times giving a boost to amateur runners

SACRAMENTO — Furlough days can create financial challenges, increase stress and send frustration levels soaring.

Or they can take you to the starting line of a marathon.

Sacramento siblings Pete and Jeanne Sapunor took those unwanted, unpaid days off and started a running program that led them to the 27th annual California International Marathon today.

Pete Sapunor, 51, was to run the 26.2-mile race from near Folsom Dam to a block from the steps of the state Capitol. Jeanne Sapunor, 55, signed up as part of a relay team and intends to run the opening 5.9-mile relay leg.

Both say they wouldn't be doing this if not for the dreaded f-word.

"I was thinking, 'I don't want to sit around on my rear,' " said Pete, an attorney for the California Department of Public Health, who has three furlough days each month. "I wanted to do something with those Fridays."

So when Pete spotted a flier last May in a Starbucks about a '5 weeks to 5K' training program set up by local exercise physiologist Abby Solomon, he called Jeanne and told her if she'd do it, he'd do it.

"We just both started talking," said Jeanne, who takes one furlough day a month from her job as box office manager for the Sacramento Convention Center. "Middle age, we just needed to do more exercise. Since we had the free day, he convinced me to get into a running program and it went from there."

The easygoing but determined Sapunors began slowly, alternating running and walking. At first, Pete said he couldn't make it halfway around McKinley Park without getting winded. Jeanne started by walking for three minutes, then running for one.

The Sapunors completed the Alzheimer's Aid Society 5K (3.1 miles) in July, then set their sights on a half-marathon, building up to running 25 to 30 miles a week. They finished the Cowtown Half Marathon in September, Pete in 2 hours, 20 minutes and 31.8 seconds, and Jeanne in 3:11.23.6.

"I am amazed," Jeanne said. "I never thought I would do it."

Solomon figures the Sapunors, both Sacramento natives, turned a negative into a positive.

"A lot of people use (a furlough) as an excuse not to exercise: 'I can't do it because all these horrible things are happening,' " Solomon said. "They actually decided to change their life.

"Once they realized they could taste a little bit of success along the way, they were hooked."

Furloughs and tough economic times actually can increase participation in running events, said CIM race director John Mansoor, whose event attracted a record 7,500 marathoners and 4,000 relay runners this year.

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