Runners Find Their Pace at Minnesota Power

Running is a way for Tonya Loken to manage her life. It helps her maintain her health, clear the mental cobwebs and build friendships.

And it’s the community of runners at Minnesota Power that encourages her every day to take the time to make health a priority.

Loken and Minnesota Power colleagues Stacy South and Patty Bacigalupo are frequent running companions. All three women work in the company’s General Office Building with its easy access to Duluth’s Lakewalk and often meet to run during their lunch breaks. They also get together on weekends to run on the trails in nearby parks or to participate in organized runs in the area. The women credit each other and the supportive, health-conscious culture found at Minnesota Power with helping to keep them active.

Friendly encouragement for running and other forms of exercise and wellness initiatives is found at all levels of the organization – from senior management on down, Bacigalupo said. The three women are members of the company-sponsored Striders running group and also use the treadmills and other equipment in the downtown building’s wellness center.

Breanna Sinner, the company’s health promotions coordinator, said 22 of the 46 runners registered for Striders are women. Groups such as Striders are just one way Minnesota Power promotes health among its more than 1,400 employees. Striders participants are at all levels of running, from novice to very experienced, and meet once a week for training tips and coaching. Dozens of people from Minnesota Power run Grandma’s races and volunteer at the related events.

Still, it’s those relationships with other women runners -- forged through Striders and the wellness facility -- that are important in keeping Loken, South and Bacigalupo enthusiastic about running. For them, running is about strengthening relationships as well as strengthening muscles.

The three women pointed out that they work in different departments at Minnesota Power and may never have gotten to know each other if not for the running. Loken is a community relations specialist, South is a programmer analyst and Bacigalupo is a human resources analyst. Relationships nurtured through running spill over into better workplace relationships as they learn about their respective departments and each other’s jobs.

Runs become a time to work out job-related issues, talk about their kids, share funny stories and recharge. “You know, as women, we like to multitask,” South said.

“There are days when you don’t want to run but knowing that others are waiting for you is good motivation to put your shoes on,” South said. The camaraderie helps push you to get going and, “I feel a lot better about myself the second half of my day,” she said. Loken agreed and said she becomes more productive at work after taking some time out to exercise.

Initially, running may have been more of a means to an end – the goal of improving one’s health. While that’s still important, South said she has found enjoyment in running and much of that is due to the presence of running companions.

Running together is simply more fun than running alone, the women say. “It fills me up. I love it,” Loken said.