BEVERLY — Carolyn Leeb, 71, runs a six-mile route through Beverly called the "Eagle" quite often.
So often that she was the first runner to win a coveted red T-shirt from Running Excels, the running store at 10328 S. Western Ave. Leeb and her husband, David, are frequent participants in the group runs organized by the Beverly store.
The Leebs head out for long-distance runs three-six times per week. In fact, it was David Leeb's running pals that recognized the route he runs with the Running Excels group and looks like a perched eagle after seeing a map on social media, Carolyn Leeb said.
On Jan. 1, the owner of Running Excels challenged to area runners to conquer the bird-shaped route. Bev Lynch promised those who ran the route 25 times a red T-shirt. Those who run the route 50 times receive a $50 gift card to her store.
The yearlong contest awards those with 75 runs a special gift bag, and runners with 100 "Eagles" are entered into raffle for a pair of shoes and receive a special party. The runs are verified through the Strava app, a running and cycling tracking service.
Leeb was the first to win a T-shirt as part of challenge March 1. The self-described "oldest and slowest runner that runs out of Running Excels" said she was determined to meet the challenge, having run the route countless times before of the rewards were even offered.
"You don't have to be young and fast. You just have to be committed," she said Thursday.
Thus far, three runners have received the T-shirt, Lynch said. And she handed out her first $50 gift card two weeks ago. There are about 30 people actively participating in the challenge so far.
Running Excels will be open seven years in August. The store organizes group runs at 6 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday and at 7 a.m. Saturdays. Participants always run the Eagle, making it easier for new runners to join in on the familiar route.
Lynch said she's planning to turn Thursday nights into a "fun run," where runners meet up at a local tavern after their six-mile jog. Such runs will occur in June, July and August and could be extended based on popularity, she said.
"I could not do it [Running Excels] without the neighborhood. They have been extremely supportive of the store," Lynch said.
As for Leeb, she began running at age 38. She and her husband work hard to stay in shape and have run a half marathon every month for nearly two years. While she takes it slow, Carolyn Leeb typically wins these races for her age category.
Regretfully, Leeb didn't have an opportunity to run in high school, as sports such as track and cross country did not exist for girls in downstate Urbana. This despite the fact a boys' track coach once told her father that she ran "like a gazelle."
Leeb has lived in Beverly since 1999. She said the Eagle is a well-designed route through the neighborhood, offering safe crossings at busy streets, a few hills and some scenery of historic homes.
She further encouraged runners of all ages to take up the activity, saying she might be one of the slower runners in the group but taking home a first place ribbon isn't what it is all about at her age.
"You have some perspective, and distance running is a very contemplative activity," she said.