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At 75, She's Running on Positive Energy

March 31, 1994|MARY GUTHRIE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sarah London passed by her toppled bookshelf for weeks on the way out of her mobile home for her daily run, but she didn't pick it up. The 75-year-old was afraid that cleaning up damage from the Northridge earthquake might injure her and ruin her intensive training.

"I waited until after the marathon," the Carson resident said.

She finished the Los Angeles Marathon earlier this month in six hours, 44 minutes and 28 seconds, and it wasn't her first. Last year, London ran in the L.A. marathon, as well as those in Honolulu and Long Beach.

After this year's marathon, she finally picked up the bookcase and her books and knickknacks. It was a good thing she waited, she said, because she strained her back slightly setting things right.

London has covered a lot of ground in the past few years, but she came late to long-distance running. She played basketball and volleyball in high school but didn't start running until she was 57. She and her husband got interested in the sport at the prompting of a neighbor and ran 5K and 10K races together.

Her husband had a heart attack while running seven years ago, and he died four years ago. But London kept running.

In 1991 she joined a group that trains together in Santa Monica called the Leggers. Her first marathon was in Long Beach in 1992. She finished the race in six hours, 31 minutes and 44 seconds.

Tani Leung, 40, who credits London with getting her started running three years ago, said London told her that to stay alive, she has to stay positive.

"I think Sarah goes out with a feeling that she's going to finish," Leung said.

London describes herself as the kind of person who skips the parts of the newspaper that have bad news. She likes the company of younger people because, she said, their conversation is more interesting.

"When you start talking to people my age they start telling you about their ailments," London said.

And she runs because it makes her feel good. She gets restless if she doesn't run or walk first thing in the morning, and she enjoys the endorphins that keep her feeling good the rest of the day.

She and Leung left the Leggers and joined the closer Gardena Reebok Runners. Coach Dan Ashimine encourages London to keep putting in her miles and she regularly logs 40 miles a week around Carson and on the bike path at Redondo Beach.

Ashimine doesn't think anyone's too old to run.

"There's no question in my mind that you can start exercising at any time," he said.

London said she's not sure she'll do any more marathons, but Leung is trying to persuade London to do the Bay to Breakers Run in San Francisco.

While running this year's Los Angeles Marathon, London noticed that some people weren't doing too well.

"We saw a lot of young people along the way with their shoes off, bandaging their feet," London said.

When she finished she was tired, but not exhausted. She said she tries not to think about the length of the race.

"I don't think of 26 miles--that's a long ways to go. I'm looking toward seven miles. Then I start thinking of 14 miles. . . ."

During the race, other runners often match her pace for a bit, resulting in a breathy chat. "I kind of enjoy myself when a young fellow will say, 'You're doing good; how old are you?' " she said. "I enjoy that--I'm not offended."

She doesn't claim to have any great secrets of running. Before a race she has coffee and a Power Bar for breakfast, then another Power Bar and water during the race.

During the rest of the time, London said she eats lots of pasta, fruits and vegetables, and avoids fatty and fried foods. But she has a taste for prime rib, and eats some sort of meat two or three times a week "to keep my strength up."

"My appetite is very good," she said.

An Ohio native, London came to California with her husband more than 30 years ago. She has two daughters in Ohio but plans to stay in Carson as long as she can take care of herself. That way she can keep running.

"What I do here, I can do year-round," London said.

Her family is proud of her but doesn't really understand why she runs.

"They think it's too much. They can't conceive that anyone would do that but a crazy person.

"They're interested but they're not about to go out and do it," London said.

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