They started as a Saturday morning running club, a group of women who got together to talk, run and sip coffee.
They still are those things, but now they can also call themselves champions of the Klondike Trail of '98 International Road Relay.
Hard Women Are Good To Find, a group of Juneau women ranging from their 30s to 50s, captured the women's division of the 108-mile, 10-leg relay race with a time of 15 hours, four minutes and 44 seconds - nearly 20 minutes better than the second-place team.
For the Hard Women, however, winning the race only served as a pleasant surprise while spending time with their girlfriends.
"We didn't know if we'd get first this year," team member Heather Johnson-Smith said. "We just walked into the after-race banquet when they said, 'and first place goes to Hard Women Are Good To Find.'"
The group started in 1999 as a handful of women, most of whom worked at JRC/The Alaska Club, as a way to run together and train.
Hard Women has since grown so large that a sister group competed in Klondike and took fourth place - Fast Women ... And We Run Too.
"The nice thing about the Klondike is that it's a team event, but each individual person can set their own goals and be as competitive for themselves as they want to," Johnson-Smith said. "From that aspect, it's great."
The group celebrates birthdays with each other and throws different theme parties throughout the year.
Every September, however, the squad embarks on the ferry to Skagway to compete, party and dance at the three-day long Klondike Road Rally.
This year, the Hard Women became the championship women.
"It just worked out this year," charter member Nancy Potts said. "The team that beat us every year weren't there this year and sometimes you get the right person in the right leg and it all comes together. We had some awesome runs."
Hard Women featured Debi English, Leah Magowan, Shelly Saviers, Kim Janelle, Caro Rosier-Polley, Heidi Lingle, Heather Conway, Carol Johnson, Johnson-Smith and Potts.
"We were very surprised when we got to the banquet and we found out we did win," Potts said. "Every year is a good year and we have such a great time. It's such a big production to get there. We have 10 women and all our stuff. It's a lot of fun."
Winning first place is nice for this close-knit group of girlfriends, but what's most important are the relationships these friends share.
Smith-Johnson said the team rarely runs alone and is conditioned to run together and spend time with one another. They've been with each other through pregnancies, injuries, good times and bad.
The Hard Women will still compete at the Klondike, but no first-place medal could outshine the bond these athletes share
"We're just a bunch of friends," Potts said. "Predominantly, that's what it's about for us. We don't do it to win. We love being together and having a good time. It's a camaraderie we have. It works well whether we run fast or not."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com
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