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Life in the Fast Lane : Soon to turn 71, Lois Lieberman recently ran her third L.A. Marathon. Weekly 18-mile hikes keep her in shape.

March 19, 1992|ROBYN LOEWENTHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lois Lieberman turns 71 this month and has three Los Angeles Marathons under her belt. But the late bloomer claimed she led a quiet, protected life until age 60 when widowhood forced her to "rewrite her life script."

Publicity-shy Lieberman agreed to be interviewed a few days after the recent L.A. Marathon. In last year's race, Lieberman placed first in her division. This time she ran it in 6 hours and 11 minutes, placing second in the 70-74 age group.

"Can you believe there is a little old lady out there who's faster than I am?" Lieberman said. "She ran it in 5 hours and 45 minutes. So I guess I'll have to actually train for next year."

We met during one of her weekly 18-mile hikes through Sycamore Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains in Newbury Park. The trail over uneven terrain offers magnificent vistas, a waterfall and chance encounters with lizards, snakes and poison oak, as it winds down approximately nine miles to Sycamore Canyon Camp Ground across Pacific Coast Highway from the beach.

At 8:30 Sunday morning, I arrived at the trail-head parking lot to find Lieberman returning from an exploratory jaunt. She greeted me warmly and we sat at a dew-dampened wooden picnic table to get acquainted.

Lieberman, who has been a resident of Simi Valley for 31 years, is a native Bostonian, but she never ran in her hometown's famous marathon. She never exercised much at all until her son encouraged her to rebound from the depression of widowhood. Lieberman's husband, Saul, with whom she had two sons and a daughter, died in 1982 after 40 years of marriage.

"We loved each other's company and it took me a long time to get over my husband's death," she said. "I lived a very protected life and I was scared of everything. But I had to start overcoming my fears. So I took a mountaineering class and did rappelling and climbing with finger holes."

Her husband's death, said Lieberman, would have been a waste if she hadn't created a new life for herself. "We can't feel sorry for ourselves. We give ourselves a hug and we get on with it," she said while outpacing me on an uphill slope.

So at age 60 she began to change her sedentary ways. And eight years later she successfully ran her first marathon.

"It's just a sea of people--before you--and behind you. You get a tremendous energy surge that's exciting. And it's a different perspective to jog down the deserted streets in Hollywood and the downtown L.A. loop."

For the last two years her 32-year-old son, Eric, has run the race with her. "He sets the pace for me." And this year one of Lieberman's friends joined them at the 13-mile mark for the rest of the race.

"I was especially impressed by the strong showing of support from the neighborhood women who live along the route, " she said. "They encourage you and hand out slices of oranges and water to the runners.

"You get a 'finisher's medal' if you drag your body across the line within 9-10 hours," said Lieberman.

"Even though I was about number 13,000 to finish, as I'm dragging my butt across the finish, I was thinking there are thousands that start, but not all finish. Last year about 22,000 people ran."

Unlike many half her age, Lieberman was at work the next morning at 7.

"I get aches and pains, but I don't pay attention to them. In the morning I start out sometimes limping a little bit. But I just work through it. Whatever it is--in life too--you work it out. That's my philosophy," she said.

"I'm always the oldest in the activities I do--often by 30 years. I attend a cardio-jam class and a Jazzercise class, each once a week. I try to fit in a step class and aerobics when I can get to the gym. And I hike."

When asked if she likes yoga, Lieberman responded, "I have done yoga in the past. And when I get old and gray I will do it again. But for now I like a little pounding."

UP CLOSE / LOIS LIEBERMAN

Age: Turns 71 on March 29

Home: Simi Valley

Family: Widowed in 1982 after 40 years of marriage. Two sons, a daughter and two grandchildren.

Job: Retired. In 1969 first female cartographer for the city of Los Angeles Planning Dept. Currently works part-time in the shoe department of Mervyn's, Simi Valley.

Education: During World War II studied drafting at Ringe Technical College, affiliated with Harvard University. Earned A.A. degree in 1969, member of Moorpark Community College's first graduating class.

Hobbies: Running, hiking, skiing, scuba diving, white-water rafting, aerobics, weightlifting, kick boxing and "krav maga" (Israeli martial arts).

Biggest Accomplishment: Running the 26.2-mile L.A. Marathon. 1990: age 68. Time: 6 hours, 59 minutes. Placed sixth of 12 who finished in 65-69 age group. 1991: age 69. Time: 6 hours, 20 minutes. Placed first. 1992: age 70. Time: 6 hours, 11 minutes. Placed second in 70-74 age group.

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