Runner Extraordinaire Earning a Life

By J. Jody Kelly – December 3, 2012

Claudette Wakefield runs. Does she ever! On October 20, 2012, she completed her goal of racing a half marathon in each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. She has run more than one in Texas and California, so her grand total to date is 60 stand-alone half marathons over the past nine years, along with two half Ironman-distance triathlons that culminated in half marathons. She has also finished two dozen shorter foot races and about 30 triathlons and duathlons. Since 2003, she has raced well over 1,000 miles on foot, not to mention the many miles of training runs that prepared her for the races.

Wakefield’s half marathons include the very large with over 20,000 participants, such as the Nashville Country Music Half on April 4, 2009, and the very small with fewer than 200 participants, such as her most recent half marathon, the Monster Mash, in Dover, Delaware. She likes them all, from her fastest in a time of 2:00:47 at 3M in Austin in 2005 to her slowest at a time of 3:01:36 in Estes Park, Colorado, in 2010, where high altitude, cold weather, and continuous rain made it “a very difficult race.” The half marathon distance, 13.1 miles, suits her best, though she races shorter distances as well.

Is Wakefield done yet? Not at all. Her next goals are to finish her first full marathon and to race a half marathon on each of the seven continents. North America has already earned its check mark and Europe will get one in May of 2013, when she and her husband, Joe, a psychiatrist, will visit family members in Spain. After her half marathon there, the couple will take a bicycle tour of the Pyrenees and Costa Brava. Her African Half Marathon near, but not on, Mount Kilimanjaro will conclude with a safari. In Australia she wants to race the Outback Half at iconic Ayres Rock. Asia and South America are still in the planning stages, though racing on the Great Wall of China and racing in Brazil or Chile intrigue her.

For Antarctica, Wakefield is already registered through Marathon Tour and Travel for a half in 2016. The course is on an icy gravel road that connects the scientific research bases maintained by Chile, China, Russia, and Uruguay on King George Island off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, which juts north toward Argentina and Chile. She is on the wait list for earlier years and hopes enough people decide not to go that she can race in 2014. Wakefield notes, “I don’t wish anything bad to anyone, but I’d really like to race in Antarctica the year I turn 70.”

That’s right. Wakefield, now 68, started racing when she was 59. She retired from teaching geography at Round Rock High School in 2003 and decided to improve her health and become active because her mother had a stroke, her older sister died of ovarian cancer, and her younger sister battled breast cancer. Initially drawn to triathlon, she trained with a women’s group, Tough Cookies, for a year. When her husband wanted to participate, they joined the T3 training group together. For quite some time, triathlon satisfied them. Then Joe Wakefield developed knee issues and decided to focus on bicycling and short triathlons. He usually cycles about 50 miles every weekend.

Claudette Wakefield turned to running but only after racing a championship triathlon. Her finish time at the Cancun 70.3 Half Ironman in September of 2007 (7:25:22) earned her a spot in the Ford World Championship 70.3 in Clearwater, Florida. Although she was “honored to have qualified for it,” the race was so tough it dawned on her that, instead of doing half Ironman-distance triathlons, she could enjoy racing even more by running only the last leg, the half marathon. Since then, she has entered half a dozen triathlons, though none since 2009. She’s a runner and a good one, earning one of the top three medals in the majority of her 60 half marathons.

Originally from El Salvador, Wakefield swam competitively until she was 12 and enjoyed modern dance and ballet but was never a fast runner as a child. Like many people, she fell away from organized sports when she grew up. Until she retired, the most she ever exercised was chopping cedar and working around the ranch that she and her husband own in Mason, Texas. Now, she usually trains three times a week with Gilbert’s Gazelles in the Friendlies program, running at a pace of 11 or 12 minutes per mile. What she likes about running with a group is that “the youth of the people around you is energizing and enjoyable.”

After doing graduate work in cultural anthropology, Wakefield and her husband moved to Austin in 1980. Their son, two daughters, and eight grandchildren live in Austin as well. Married for 45 years, she finds that “Austin is a fantastic place to stay fit.” It offers a great atmosphere for athletes of all ages. She loves riding bikes with her kids and grandkids and feels especially blessed that she can participate in sports with her husband.

If anything concerns Wakefield, it’s the growing obesity and addiction problems among today’s youth. She hopes more and more young adults will decide to become active at an earlier age than she did. To someone just getting started with exercise, she says, “Take it one step at a time and take it with joy, not as a burden. Find out what you like to do and go do it!” To those overcoming obesity, smoking, excessive drinking, or other lifestyle choices, she says becoming active helps you “earn a life.”

Wakefield is definitely earning a life. In addition to running, she swims twice a week, bicycles twice a week, and works out with a personal trainer once a week. She cooks only fresh food and uses venison, chicken, and fish for protein. Quinoa, bean soup, olive oil, fresh fruit, and vegetables round out her diet. Glucosamine/chondroitin and DHEA are her only supplements, and she takes no prescription medications. No wonder her goal is to “keep racing for as long as possible.” It matches her philosophy about racing: “Finish without getting hurt and enjoy the experience.” She’ll be running for a long time.


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