On the run!

CEO takes her mark in marathons

Beep!” “Beep!” “Beep!” At five o’clock in the morning, the alarm clock sounds. It’s time for Danita Johnson Hughes to rise and shine. Despite this daily routine, she always has a difficult time getting out of bed. It’s early, and in the wintertime it’s cold. “I can’t back out today,” she sighs-almost daily. The thought of letting down her partner, who’s waiting, motivates her to get up. So she leaves her sleeping husband in bed and drags passed her snoozing daughter. “I can’t deal with the guilt of not showing up when I know he is waiting for me,” she says.

You might assume the high-powered executive is running off to an important business meeting. After all, she is CEO and president of Edgewater Systems for Balanced Living, a behavioral-health and child-welfare services organization based in Gary, Indiana. Well, you were only half right; the 46-year-old is on the run, but it’s to a meeting to prepare for the Chicago Marathon in October.

Johnson Hughes has been running for 12 years. Initially, running was a hobby that helped her keep weight down and stay in shape. However, her love for the sport has led her to run in several marathons, including those in Ohio, Hawaii, Illinois and Washington, D.C. “To keep in shape, I run five to seven miles every day or at least five or six days a week,” she says proudly.

Aside from the health benefits, running allows Johnson Hughes to fulfill a long list of personal goals. In 1996, she participated in a marathon for the Leukemia Society and raised nearly $4,000 for the effort. Currently, she is fundraising for the Northwest Indiana Sickle Cell foundation to organize a Fun-Run-Walkathon. In addition, she will participate in a run for Opportunities Enterprises, a nonprofit vocational rehabilitation organization, and a school that has been training her for running marathons. “I’ve been blessed in a lot of ways and running enables me to give something back to the community,” contends Johnson Hughes.

Anyone interested in participating in the sport should get a clean bill of health from a physician, Johnson Hughes advises. Once you get the okay, start running gradually. “I started on a local high school track. Initially, I would run a lap and walk a lap for about a mile. Then I increased it, she explains. Now she averages one mile every nine minutes.

For beginners, Johnson Hughes suggests the same approach. But first, you need a decent pair of running shoes, which cost $30 to $40. “They should have good shock absorbency and good cushioning. [The shoes] need to absorb the impact of constantly striking a hard surface,” she insists. “Remember, you may not run marathons, but you can still get out and run for fun, exercise or a social activity.”

Getting started

  • Join a running club. There are several running clubs in almost every area of the country. Check your local newspaper or the Internet for those near you.
  • Dress appropriately. During warmer months, run in shorts and a T-shirt or tank top.
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