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Women Running Mates : * A high school track squad and a master's team work out together in an experiment that mingles athletes of different ages.

March 25, 1994|G. BRUCE SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; G. Bruce Smith is a frequent contributor to The Times.

At first glance, the group of women stretching and working out early one Saturday morning at the Harvard-Westlake School track in Studio City appears to be made up of typical athletes.

Suited up in sweats or spandex, some sporting gloves because of the cold, the women stretch, grunt, moan--and giggle when the exercises get strenuous.

But on closer examination, it's clear that the athletes fall into two groups: teen-agers and middle-aged.

The track team from the all-girls' Louisville High School in Woodland Hills and a master's team of mature women have been brought together for weekly workouts in an experiment that mingles athletes of different ages. The high school girls are 15 to 17 years old; the women on the master's team range from 40 to 56. ("Master's team" means any professional or amateur team made up of people 40 or older.)

And though there's a contrast in the abilities of the two groups--the girls outpace and outrun the older women--the runners agree that the experiment has fostered a camaraderie and taught them valuable lessons.

"It's good to see older women. It gives you inspiration to run," said Danielle Harms of Northridge, a 17-year-old senior at Louisville. "It's good support to have us run together. They can cheer us on running and we can cheer them on."

In a field where youth is glorified and athletes are often considered old in their 20s, the commingling of the two teams is unusual. The woman who has brought the two groups together is Marie Murphy, a coach who competed in the 1988 Olympics marathon for her native country, Ireland, and is training for the 1996 games.

Murphy said she started the joint workouts last fall. The master's team--made up of about 12 women who call themselves the Haute Flashers--work out at the Santa Monica High School running track Tuesday and Thursday mornings. The 40 girls on the Louisville track-and-field team receive their training Mondays and Wednesdays.

Murphy wanted to give each group, which she has coached for the past year, an additional weekly workout and believed each would benefit from being with the other. So she arranged Saturday workouts, usually held in Balboa Park, a halfway point between Santa Monica and Woodland Hills, or at Harvard-Westlake.

"I found the master's women really like to work with the younger group because it was a challenge to see how they could match the girls," Murphy said.

"When I first told the girls that I also trained master's women, they couldn't relate to it," she said. "And then when they see them, they're amazed."

*

On a recent Saturday, Murphy led the women on a 1 1/2-hour workout that included a warm-up jog or walk around the track, stretching and interval training, where the two groups would run a quarter- or half-mile around the track, followed by a walk. She also had the groups race 100 meters.

Two of the master's women--Julie Lopp, 56, of Santa Monica and Suzanne Schweitzer of Westwood, who is in her late 40s--trailed the girls by only a few seconds in the various runs. Schweitzer and Lopp have won several master's races.

But Murphy said competition isn't her main goal, although she joked, "I tell the girls that if you're beaten by someone who's 45, that's it."

What is important--particularly for the older women--is to encourage fitness and foster self-esteem, she said.

"Running was never something I thought I could do or wanted to do," said Schweitzer, who was encouraged to join the team by Murphy when the coach saw her at a fitness club in Brentwood. "At this age, I thought doors were closing, and I realized it's never too late."

"Women my age haven't done sports," Lopp said. "When I was in high school, I was a cheerleader. I cheered for someone else."

Some believe the intergenerational combination is important beyond the world of athletics and fitness.

"I think the older women are going to want to compete on a deeper level, rather than compete with lipstick and makeup," said Bonnie Frankel, 49, of Santa Monica.

Frankel was a member of the Haute Flashers until recently and worked out with the Louisville girls a couple of times. She also ran and swam competitively from 1991 to 1993 against women half her age at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and at the community-college level.

But, she added, the two generations of women need to "combine what we have in the world."

"What can we fight for?" she asked. "What can we unite on?"

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