The Dawn Of Running Therapy For Six Payson Women


Adrenaline coursed through the bodies of Shellie Landers, Bessie Tucker, Denise Dynes, Felicia Moore, Christie Varner and Shelly Christian as they waited for the ‘go' signal to start running.

These six women made P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll half marathon their goal seven months ago when they could barely jog once around the high school track.


Shellie Landers, Bessie Tucker, Denise Dynes, Felicia Moore, Christie Varner and Shelly Christian are ready to run the morning before P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and Half Marathon, which recently took place in the Valley.

"Running is therapy, you just jam to your iPod and go," Moore said.

Her five friends give Moore credit for convincing them it was worthwhile to buddy up at 5 a.m. to first walk, then, jog around the high school track every other day.

"I'm not a runner. I like body-building. I just did this as a challenge," Moore said. Chang's was her second half marathon.

On weekends, they ran an increasing number of miles together through the streets of Payson.

The training standard for a half marathon is 10 miles.

Weight loss, fitness and the mental health a clear head brings were just three of the goals that got the women out of bed to run, even in 20 degree winter temperatures.

Shellie Landers

Landers outgrew childhood asthma.

"Growing up it was my dream to run a marathon," she said.

She joined the group three weeks after the others started training.

"It is hard to run long distance." Lander said.

The four-mile point is when she begins to question her sanity.

"Then, at five, I'm good," she said.

Shelly Christian

Christian wanted to do an exercise that she could do anywhere, was inexpensive and made her soul feel good. "You just need a pair of running shoes," she said.

Denise Dynes

After giving birth to her daughter Elaine, Dynes wanted to get the pregnancy weight off.

"I have gone to the gym and stopped, exercised to videos and stopped, but this wasn't just for my body, it was for my mind," she said.

In July, when her muscles ached, she thought running would never work.

"Your body learns to adapt. I have never undergone this kind of physical transformation. I lost 25 pounds. I have found an exercise I love," she said.

Bessie Tucker

Running gave Tucker a simplified perspective on life after divorce.

"The time I spent running forced me to be quiet and face, head-on, the person I am and the person I want to become," Tucker said.

She wore no makeup the week before the race. It was her way to focus.

Christie Varner

Swimming is Varner's sport of choice. She teaches water aerobics.

When Moore asked, she thought she'd give running "a try."

"At first, I did not think it was fun, then I loved the beauty I could see running here, looking at the views from Airport Road," Varner said.

A wild race

Hilly Payson allows runners advantages and disadvantages.

"The altitude definitely gave us an edge, running in the lower elevation of the Valley," Christian said.

When Valley marathoners lamented a hill, the Payson women could say, "what hill?"

Wild, four-legged nature can be lovely to look at, yet not make good running partners.

More than once while training, the women stopped running to allow a herd of elk cross the road.

The women went out of their way to avoid javelina.

"I was out running in the early morning dark near McLane and Main when a man in a truck slowed down to tell me he had just seen a mountain lion," Dynes said.

As a result, Dynes resolved to run only after the sun came up.

Sunrise did not mean an end to animal encounters.

"There's something in the bushes," Landers said as she and Dynes ran down Longhorn one morning.

A black-and-white critter scurried out of the brush.

Landers screamed. The skunk gave chase.

The women did not want to find out what would happen if the skunk caught them, so they ran faster.

Later, Dynes Googled skunks and found out they only give chase when rabid.

The runners at the 2008 P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and Half Marathon did not have to contend with animals.

The six women started out running beside 35,000 people, about double the population of the Rim Country.

"It was exciting. We started out like a herd of cattle and I thought, ‘oh no, are we going to have to run like this'" Christian said.

Soon the walkers and runners spread out.

Tom Turner, Christian's brother paced them to 11-minute miles.

Water and Powerade drink stands were placed every few miles along the course, plus the runners carried carbohydrate gel packs for energy boosts.

"My goal was to run the whole 13.1 miles without walking once," Christian said. She did.

Landers was tired at 11 miles, but pushed herself to 12, where she found the energy to finish.

The women come from diverse backgrounds. They span in age from late 20s to early 40s. Most are married. Three of them work outside the home. Five are mothers.

"We are proof that if anyone wants to get out and do it, they can," Moore said.

The Ragnar 181.7-mile relay race is part of the near future for Tucker and Dynes.

Landers' uncle wants her to run with him in the New York marathon.

"I'll get there, just give me time," she said.

Even if they do not compete all together again, none of the women plan to stop their running therapy.

They began as acquaintances through church and the gym.

"Now we are friends who can bear each other's burdens and celebrate the exciting things that happen," Tucker said.


The women had goals to finish the half marathon between 2:30 and 2:45.

  • Denise Dynes 2:44
  • Shellie Landers 2:46:16
  • Felicia Moore 2:41
  • Christie Varner 2:45
  • Shelly Christian 2:23
  • Bessie Tucker 2:28:57

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