RALEIGH — Imagine if you never ran a day in your life and now have 10 weeks to get ready for a 5k run.
That’s what the Women’s Beginner Running Club is preparing its members for starting this week.
“We start really slow and do run/walks, then we gradually increase the distance and intervals each week to prepare the women,” said Terri Dowd, coordinator of this year’s program. “We increase the distance every Thursday and intervals every Saturday.”
The group is a part of the N.C. Roadrunners Club. The short-term goal is for members to be able to finish the Roadrunners Club Celebration 5k race in Raleigh on Sept. 20.
But the long-term benefits introduce women to an old fitness trick.
Before Sue Guttilla joined the club in 2009, she could barely run a lap around the gym without huffing and puffing. By the end of the program, she had lost 10 pounds, dropped a pants size and become a better runner.
During the first week, members are separated into four groups, based on their running abilities. Group A is reserved for fast or advanced runners, Group B for intermediate runners, and Group C for those who are pretty fit but have never run a race before.
Then there is Group D for the ones who have never run and are not in the best shape. Most people, like Guttilla, start off in Group D.
“I was in Group D and I loved it because we kept together and we waited for each other,” she said. “We learned that if you can talk while running, then you are running just right.”
Guttilla credits the group to for exposing her to running.
“I did my race, but I continued running,” she said. “I did more races, and I did half marathons.”
Dowd and others volunteer a lot of time to the group. Last year, she says she worked at least 100 hours.
This year is her third year running the program, but says she could not have done it without two people – Robin Haden, co-coordinator, and Rebecca Sitton, volunteer coordinator.
Together, these women find speakers specializing in different disciplines to educate the group on running. Usually on Thursday evenings, members are welcomed to stay behind after the run to learn additional running skills. Speakers educate the members about footwear and what to wear, while others spoke about physical therapy, injury prevention and stretching.
But organizing the graduation dinner is one of the most enjoyable experiences, according to Dowd.
“The race is always on a Saturday, so the Thursday before it we host a graduation dinner for the women in the program,” she said. “We give out a lot of gifts and recognize every runner’s accomplishment during the course.”
It is a time for the students to celebrate a big accomplishment or, as Guttilla puts it, survival.
“At graduation, we realized that we did it and have just one obstacle to overcome – the big race,” said Guttilla. “The graduation I went to was small and comfy, so I liked that a lot, but now it is a lot bigger and at restaurants.”
Filling a void for women
Georgia Hagens started the club through Roadrunners in 1998 because of the lack of running clubs in the Raleigh at the time, especially for women.
During the first few years, the class met twice a week and had fewer than 15 participants. Over time and with the rising popularity of running, the numbers grew. At one point, the club had 120 women sign up. After that, the group capped membership at 100.
“Any more than 100 would be way too much for us to handle,” said Dowd. “The North Carolina Roadrunners Club and this program are all run on a volunteer basis.”
The Women’s Beginner Running Club meets a minimum of three times a week. Members have the option of meeting in the mornings or afternoons, but everyone meets together on Saturdays.
Charles: 919-829-4864 Twitter: @kareemacharles