Two years ago, reports of prowlers following runners in the early mornings in Bixby Knolls surfaced. A group of runners decided to “take back” their streets by running together—and now, they’re ready to take on the Long Beach Marathon.

It all started when Bixby Knolls resident Marcelle Epley just wanted to get her 5 a.m. run in the same as she always had for five years. One day, a driver in a mysterious dark car followed her on a run for half a mile, only leaving when a neighbor chased the driver off in his own car.

She was shaken by the incident, so she took self defense classes, started switching up her routes and carried pepper spray.

“Still when I was running and even taking all the precautions, I was looking over my shoulder,” said Epley, chief executive of the Long Beach Community Foundation. “I lost that peace that you get while running.”

She shared about the incident on Facebook and NextDoor, and at least five other women reported similar incidents in the area.

Epley had a thought: “I wonder if others would be encouraged to run with me?”

So she posted about starting a running group on Facebook and NextDoor and over 70 people commented their interest in an early morning daily meetup—and thus, the Bixby Knolls Dawn Joggers were born.

In reality, about five to seven people showed up to the first meetup in front of the Jamba Juice on Carson and Atlantic, but within two years the group has grown to more than 250 members on Facebook, including an eastside group.

“We’ve taken back our streets,” Epley said.

They meet every weekday morning at 5:15. She picks out a different 3.5 mile route for the group and passes out paper copies of it before they head out.

“It’s kind of like a parade in Bixby Knolls at 6 a.m.,” Epley said.

Maura Hudson started running with the group when she heard what happened to Epley. Initially she just offered to be Epley’s running buddy—even though Hudson was not a runner at the time—and joined the group as a way to get in shape.

Since starting with the group, Hudson has lost nearly 70 pounds, ran a 10K and ran half-marathon. This Sunday she’ll run her first full marathon.

“Now I have more of a love than a love/hate relationship with running,” Hudson joked.

Epley even slowed down for the newcomers, Hudson said, and sets aside Tuesdays and Thursdays for new walkers.

Those walkers turn into joggers and the joggers turn into runners, then they turn into fast-paced runners, Epley said.

For Kathy Procopio, even jogging was hard for her when she started with the group in July last year. She started jogging the whole route by January and ran in her first race earlier this year, and now she’s running her first half-marathon on Sunday.

The group is what made her successful, she said, providing accountability and plenty of encouragement.

“The fast people are really proud of us slow guys,” Procopio said. “I would never in a million years have done this without a group.”

She said Epley led the group in training for this weekend. Marathon training with the Dawn Joggers included 10 mile runs that started at 4:15 a.m. and longer weekend runs that increased by two miles every week.

Others in the group will be participating in their first half or full marathons too.

“Sunday is going to be a test of all of our training,” Epley said.

The JetBlue Long Beach Marathon kicks off at 6 a.m. Sunday near Shoreline Drive and Ocean Boulevard. For a list of road closures, click here.

Road closures for the Long Beach Marathon in 2018

Valerie Osier is a breaking news reporter for the Long Beach Post. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @ValerieOsier

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