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From ‘Couch Potato to 5K’: Learning to run

POSTED: August 18, 2014 1:30 a.m.

Chelsey Abercrombie, center, walks with new exercise friend Shelly Cornett Thursday evening in the First Baptist Church parking lot.

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We’ve all seen them: Sweaty-faced people, huffing for breath and summoning all their energy to shuffle from point A to point B.

The clothes they wear manage to combine all the skin tightness of a Cirque de Soleil costume and the bright colors of a ’90s sitcom into one tremendous lycra offense against fashion. Up close, you can hear them throw around weird terms such as "negative splits," "overpronation" and "Asics."

They’re outside your place of business, your child’s school, even your house.

I’m not talking about some weird, "Saved By the Bell"-themed group of thieves. I’m talking about runners.

When I decided to join the "Couch to 5K" program at the Family Life Center at First Baptist Church, I had little to no running experience whatsoever. Aside from the one hellacious day in high school when an overweight gym teacher forced us to run the dreaded mile, my exercise habits all have one thing in common: I stay in one place, and I like it that way.

Through the years I flirted with the idea of getting into running, and occasionally I tried it. But I know now I was making the same fatal mistakes every time. Which is why I decided to join the "Couch Potato to 5K" program, where someone who was more qualified than me could show me how to do it correctly. It already had my favorite word in the title: couch. I liked it already.

The good thing about the program, first and foremost, is you’re not alone. When I arrived at the first-day meeting, people of all sizes, genders and ages were wearing the same trepidacious smiles and Nike Frees.

My initial anxieties about being the only participant with a shouting trainer running and screaming alongside me, Russian Olympic coach from Old Country-style, were dissipated. Everyone was friendly, especially the coaches. And after the decidedly not-Russian, not-screaming program advisor gave us a quick safety and encouragement speech, we adjourned to the parking lot to run.

The actual running did not cause any harrowing flashbacks to my high school days. The beauty of the "Couch Potato to 5K" program is you run three times a week for nine weeks, and the emphasis on endurance rather than speed means a slow and steady climb to the top is acceptable.

For 30 minutes, we alternated running for 60 seconds and walking for 90 seconds.

This was the fatal mistake I made every time I attempted to run in the past, and why I failed miserably every time: you cannot start off running entire miles straight out of the gate. I would attempt to run a full mile, get frustrated when I felt like the creature from "Alien" was bursting out of my chest and quit. "Slow and steady wins the race," may be the cliche of all cliches, but it’s actually true. Especially if you’re like me and your goal is just to finish the race, much less win it.

While the actual running didn’t make me feel like I was going into cardiac arrest, the August humidity wasn’t doing me any favors. The true villain of this story was not my couch potato status but the black cotton T-shirt I chose to wear. Turns out there is a reason for all the flimsy, shiny fabrics runners wear, aside from the obvious tribute to "Blossom": they allow your skin to breathe, as opposed to cotton, which traps all the heat, sweat and sadness inside like a circus tent from hell.

If you choose to take up running, good shoes and breathable clothes should be your No. 1 concern. I also had worn the same old tennis shoes I’ve been wearing for the past three years or so, and the insole had regrettably worn down to the point where I had little to no arch support. As it turns out, "arch support" isn’t just a concern for architects and old ladies; it will make a serious difference in protecting your joints and preventing your feet from hurting afterward.

Finally, after the fateful 30 minutes concluded, we got to the glorious afterward. All of the runners tumbled and dragged themselves under the portico at First Baptist. They looked like the Israelites coming out of the desert, except a Nike ad.

We were sweaty and considerably more sore than when we’d started, but the first step toward being one of those lycra-wearing, heartrate monitor-owning proficient runners had been taken. I don’t anticipate every day will be as easy as the first, but seeing as it’s the only way to accomplish my goal, I am excited to get started.


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