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March 10, 2011   Email to Friend 

RUNNERS LACE UP FOR HEALTH AND CHARITY
Marc Pearson

Alfa Customer Service Representative Leigh Marsh recently finished her 12th half marathon.
At Alfa, runners throughout the company are lacing up their shoes and participating in races of all distances; from events in rural Alabama to some of the largest and most prestigious races in the world in places like Chicago, New York, Boston and even Disney World.

According to Running USA, a non-profit organization monitoring trends in running, the number of finishers in races of all distances has hit record levels. But running is more than just competition; for many it's a complete lifestyle change benefitting their mental and physical health and, in many cases, their favorite charities as well. "I can't begin to describe how much it's changed my life," said Rex Seabrook, 41, Alfa Farmowner Underwriting Manager. "I feel better about myself, I feel more energetic, and I feel that it will help me live a longer and healthier life for my wife and daughter. Heart disease runs in my family, and I want to do all I can to be around when my little girl graduates high school, college, gets married and has her family. I want to be an involved and active grandfather some day."

Seabrook has completed two marathons and one half-marathon. His favorite race was the Pensacola Marathon when his daughter placed the coveted finisher's medal around his neck. Many runners say an early morning run provides positive benefits in their professional and personal lives throughout the day.

"Running has helped me in all phases of my life - from my faith, home and work," said Alabama Farmers Federation Area Organization Director Matthew Durdin of Jasper. "I listen to praise music or download a daily devotion and listen to it on long runs. I feel energized at home after running, and that also helps me stay focused on what I need to accomplish at work." Durdin, 38, has been running for five years. He's completed five half marathons and one run/swim/run race. His goal is to complete the full marathon distance this year.

Keith Bowen, 38, of Prattville is a Resource Specialist II with Alfa who has logged a lot of miles. Since 2006, he's completed nine half marathons and 14 marathons, including back-to-back marathons over two days in January 2010. He also has completed the world's oldest and most prestigious annual marathon, the Boston Marathon, a race with strict entry requirements based on qualifying times.

"My most memorable was the Boston Marathon in 2009 and words cannot describe it," said Bowen. "Basically, you run 26.2 miles with at least a million people cheering for you and it is the closest thing to feeling like a rock star. No other race has compared to the Boston Marathon thus far."

Alfa employees have joined thousands of runners who've turned their passion into a pastime aimed at helping others. Millions of dollars each year are raised for charity through races of all sizes. In 2010, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon alone had 10,000 runners who raised $10 million for charities around the globe. Almost every local race benefits charity in some way, bringing another meaningful aspect to those who participate. "Most of the local 5K's and 10K's that I have done are for some sort of charity," said Customer Service Representative Leigh Marsh of Pell City. "I raised over $2,000 to help find a cure for cancer. I also ran a half marathon for autism. Some races the entry fee goes to a certain charity, and others you actually have a set amount of money to raise for the charity in order to participate in the race."

Prattville Alfa Agent Troy Stubbs, 32, lives in Wetumpka and has organized local road races that raised thousands of dollars for two charities. He's been an active runner since 2005 competing in more than 25 races, including four marathons and three half marathons.

"I really enjoy participating in these local events," said Stubbs. "It is a great way to get out and support various causes. But, perhaps the best part is seeing people achieve their personal goals of being physically fit."

Many runners say the beauty of the sport is the convenience (you can run anywhere) and the price tag is reasonable (all you really need is a good pair of running shoes). After that, it's all about finding motivation.

Sonya McInvale, 47, is an auto underwriter for Alfa. She started running in 2008 to get in shape and has since completed three half marathons and is preparing for two more. "Personally, I think it's the fastest way to lose weight and keep it off," she said. "It's also a fairly cheap sport to get started in." Getting started is easy, and most people do not need to run marathons or half marathons to find success and health benefits.

"The main thing is to just get out there and start walking. I would suggest maybe finding a local 5K and setting a goal," said Marsh. "You can find out about local 5K's from a Web site called Active.com or your local sports store."

Marsh, 40, said she started running in 2007 and has completed 12 half marathons and one full marathon. This from someone who admits she was not athletic prior to her discovery of running.

"I was not very athletic as a child. I was teacher's aide during my PE classes to get out of having to actually exercise," said Marsh. "Now I am getting up in the freezing cold, rain, snow or heat of the summer for a race before most people even get up to start their day. Sometimes I still can't believe it."

Editor's note: Marc Pearson, 34, competed on his high school cross-country team. After a break from running during college, he resumed the sport to improve his health. He has since completed the Chicago Marathon twice, including running as a charity runner for the Organization for Autism Research.


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