FAIRFIELD — Laurie Fenech of Vacaville takes her job as a kindergarten teacher at Laurel Creek Elementary School seriously.
That includes doing competitive trail running and mountain biking – and the requisite training – in her off time to help her keep up with her 32 5- and 6-year-olds.
“Being an aging athlete has helped my career in many ways,” said the 57-year-old Fenech. “The athletic endurance has helped my stamina in a kindergarten classroom. Racing bikes for a team as a teammate has helped me share the importance to my students the value of working together.
“Being fit has encouraged students to understand the importance and value of good nutrition, which provides vital fuel to help us maintain our learning power.”
Fenech has two sons – Kyle, 28, is an aerospace engineer, while Dominic, 26, is a software engineer – and has been a teacher for 17 years, all at Laurel Creek, the past five in kindergarten. She’s also taught third, second and first grade.
“I’ve just worked down,” she said with a laugh.
Fenech said she’s been an avid cyclist “about 30 years,” occasionally doing centuries, or 100-mile rides, with the Benicia Cycling Club. She began racing in 2004.
“I took the four-week clinic (for beginners to learn race skills) and then began to race,” Fenech said. “I continued to take skill clinics and raced most weekends in the women’s elite field, which I started as a (category) 4 racer and progressed to a Cat 1 racer in 2010.
“Fun and fitness helped me progress as a cyclist.”
And occasionally win. Since beginning a decade ago, Fenech has finished first in her division, usually ages 50-54 and later 55-59, 25 times, including the 2010 Carson Valley Classic Diamond Valley Road Race and 2009 Carson Valley Classic Minden Criterium.
She was also second in the 2011 Northern California/Nevada Time Trial Championship and fourth in the 2011 USA Cycling Masters Road Nationals individual time trial.
Yet Fenech found it increasingly difficult to put in the training necessary to remain competitive.
“Being 57, being in an elite field, it takes so much energy,” she said. “I don’t have that much energy to be (seriously competing).”
Fenech turned first to mountain biking around age 50 and then running three years ago as alternatives, though she still occasionally does a cycling race “to keep me in the loop.”
She trains five days a week, about a total of 12 hours. Fenech has a coach, John Hunt of San Anselmo-based Whole Athlete, with whom she works from October through February.
“He schedules my running and cycling using heart rate, power and cadence, and I send him workout results through my Garmin,” Fenech said. “It is very motivating having a coach. (It) is very fun to converse and share athletic abilities besides setting and achieving athletic goals.”
Fenech likes to trail race half marathons from September to March, usually working up to a half marathon once a month.
“Most races are single-track, mountainous trails with about 1,500 to 2,000 feet of climbing,” she said. “The trails are challenging with plenty of runners to make it competitive and make the racing fun. It is fun but serious. I am a competitive athlete. I set goals for every race.”
Fenech said she puts about five to six hours a week into running and likes to run in San Francisco, where she has a second home.
“The summer months when I am off from teaching, I take my mountain bike, my road bike and running shoes and travel to my favorite vacation spots around the Sierra range, Santa Cruz, Oregon and hope to visit the Utah National Parks this summer,” she said.
As for the rest of the year: “If I am hanging around the homes, I ride the Winters Loop or Berryessa Loop from Vacaville, or ride from my (San Francisco) home to Marin and ride the Mount (Tamalpais) Loop, Point Reyes Station or run through the many districts in the city.”
For Fenech, the time spent running and riding, as well as maintaining a healthy diet, have paid big dividends at school.
“Kindergarten is a feel-good classroom and going to work daily feeling healthy brings happiness to everyone involved,” she said. “I am lucky. I have a great career and I am healthy and fit.”
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.