It’s 5 a.m., dark and freezing cold and it’s a happy time for three Port Washington women who are thriving on a physical fitness regimen that takes them on long runs together on the way to marathons and triathlons
For the past five years, early morning workouts have become a matter of routine for a trio of north side Port Washington women who admit to solving a lot of the world’s problems while logging countless miles.
Their usual running route takes them down the Interurban bike trail, over to Rotary Park and through Upper Lake Park. There is hardly a quiet moment the entire way.
Between them, the workout buddies — who asked that their ages be listed as “in our 40s” — have 10 children, thriving careers and a driving desire to be the best version of themselves possible.
Diane Johnson is principal of Port-Saukville’s Dunwiddie Elementary School, Brenda Fritsch is an architect and member of the Port Washington-Saukville School Board and Beckie Perez is the office administrator at First Congregational Church.
They were first drawn together by the Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA’s TrY Ozaukee Multisport Club and have since entered more than 30 marathons, half-marathons and triathlons between them.
Sometimes they enter events together, sometimes individually.
Regardless, the women know they have each other’s backs.
“It has never been about winning or even competing,” Johnson said.
“It is about pushing ourselves to reach goals. In every event we enter, we are in the middle of the pack. We are the classic .500 team. For me, it is all about wellness and relationships.”
Although the women have taken part in many events with world-class athletes, that is not how they see themselves.
“I would never call myself a triathlete,” Fritsch said. “I tell people we compete in momathons.”
When the women met in 2010 and began training together, their children were all 9 years old or younger.
Since then, the women have discussed and debated every step of their young families’ development — and countless other issues — during three to five-day-a-week runs that start at 5 a.m.
Johnson and Fritsch are neighbors, and in a matter of minutes they can jog over to the driveway of the Perez home.
“You don’t want to be calling each other at that hour in the morning,” Fritsch said.
“We’ve set up a system where if we have our porch light on, we are good to go. If the light isn’t on, it usually means you are taking care of a puking kid or dealing with some other family crisis.”
The early starts may be daunting to many people, but the women said it is generally the only time they can count on having some me-time.
“Our days fill up pretty quickly,” Johnson said.
The women said working out together makes it easier to push themselves and to avoid the temptation to blow off a run.
“When you know your friends are going to be running, it makes it impossible to sleep in,” Perez said.
The trio runs an average of 30 miles a week.
Just as the training regimen has become easier with time, so have the roles the women have settled into.
Fritsch is the pace-setter for the group.
“There have been times when I felt lousy and said I was just going to walk, and the others would say, ‘OK, we’ll all walk today,’” she said.
“Becky is the storyteller,” Johnson said. “Even at 5 a.m., she can make 10 miles go like that when she gets into one of her stories.”
Her running partners said Johnson’s role is that of ultimate cheerleader.
“Rather than saying, ‘One more mile,’ she’ll say, ‘Just a little further … just up to that next hill,’” Perez said. “We can all tell you there are a lot more than seven hills in Port.”
Perez said she realized how much she relies on the support of her training partners the year after they started working out together.
Her father was diagnosed with cancer and died just four months later.
“I had to stop running with the girls, who were training for a half-marathon,” Perez said.
“They convinced me to run anyway, and I finished with my best time ever. That is the kind of unconditional support network they are for me.”
During their early morning runs, the women have come to appreciate the beauty of their hometown.
“When you are on vacation and visit a beautiful place, you often think, ‘I could see living here,’” Fritsch said.
“Not a run or a ride goes by without someone saying how beautiful the city is. Whether it is the summer sunrises over the lake, watching the early morning fishermen heading out for the day like it is Cape Cod, or the deer, the rabbits, the foxes, the owls, the blue herons and even the turkeys we see — it is all so beautiful.
“We get to experience Port Washington at those quiet moments that most people miss.”
There aren’t many weather conditions the women find daunting, either.
“We’ve run in rain, snow and bitter cold,” Perez said. “We could work as mail carriers. Each of us is always checking the forecasts. I think we are the biggest users of Weather.com.”
The women said their preference is to run outside rather than log miles on a treadmill.
“We call them dreadmills,” Perez joked.
In preparation for triathlons, the women have added swimming and bike riding to their training schedules.
Each has required learning about equipment and proper techniques, lessons that haven’t always come naturally for the women.
They laugh at having used 10-year-old mountain bikes in their first triathons while other competitors had sleek racing bikes.
“To us, a bike was a bike,” Fritsch said.
Although the women no longer train with the TrY Club, they said they found lasting inspiration in those early encounters.
“There were people in their 70s in the TrY Club. If they can still be active and healthy at that age, that is my goal too,” Fritsch said.
She said the women also find inspiration and encouragement from their children, although not always in expected ways.
Fritsch remembers when she was getting ready for her first marathon, her eldest son offered a simple plea — “Mom, just don’t die.”
Johnson said she remembers how, before a big race, the students and staff at Dunwiddie made a huge poster and the hallway was lined with shoes.
“Everyone is so supportive, and it feels good to model a healthy lifestyle,” she said.
Although it is not their motivation, Perez said it would be gratifying if other women see them as role models.
“If we, three women in their 40s with our 10 children, jobs and personal lives, can do this, anyone can,” she said.
Port Washington residents (from left) Diane Johnson, Brenda Fritsch and Beckie Perez log their training miles early in the morning. They consider the workouts to be crucial to their physical and mental wellbeing. Photo by Sam Arendt