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Gainesville native finally takes on running challenge
First Baptist Church runners prepare for an upcoming 5-kilometer race Thursday evening. The group is part of the “From Couch Potato to 5K” class which teaches its members how to prepare and run for distance.

But being the type of person who runs just for the heck of it is quite different.

Running requires a great deal of willpower, and not just the kind stopping you from reaching for the third doughnut.

The ability to propel yourself through space against gravity and all other forces, most of them mental, is something else. This, in my opinion, is why so many people look at running as a scary thing, when in fact it really is something everybody can do if willing to try.

The biggest hurdle anyone will overcome as they try running — excluding stray dogs, maniac motorists, or, you know, actual hurdles — is the purely mental idea that they can’t. In my case, this sprung out of my lack of preparation.

Before I joined the Couch to 5K group at First Baptist Church’s Family Life Center, I tried to start running a billion times. My process was always the same: I would pick a spot outside, turn on my music, run for 5 minutes and immediately become fatigued and disenchanted at how out of shape I was. This is why I would recommend two things to anyone who wants to run: a plan and a partner, preferably a partner who’s slightly more experienced.

In the beginning of the Couch to 5K program, we ran intervals of 2 to 3 minutes at a time, interspersing them with segments of walking. Herein lies the genius of the program and its inherent superiority to my previous give-it-everything-you’ve-got approach: even a literal couch potato could run on a flat surface for 60 seconds. The shorter intervals build your confidence as well as your endurance, enabling you to undertake greater times and distances as you progress.

The partner is (or should be) there to encourage you, and oftentimes distract you. You would be surprised how much you don’t notice your own discomfort when you’re discussing what happened last night on “The Blacklist.”

The other thing would-be runners should be mindful of is shoes, especially if you’re female. To combat any pain that might creep into your fickle lady joints, good shoes are key, preferably shoes with insoles to support the arches of your feet and absorb impact.

If you’re in it for the long haul, a specialty store can examine your running gait (yes, I use fancy phrases such as “running gait” now) and fit you with a pair of shoes to your specific needs. While they can be kind of pricey, I’ve found not feeling like an angry troll took a hammer to your knees for the next 24 hours is a fairly priceless state of being.

I would also recommend stocking up on dri-fit material, especially shirts. Nothing spells f-u-n quite like slogging up a hill in some baggy cotton thing that quickly evolves into a heat-trapping body cage from Hades. Running is about challenging yourself, but it is also about giving yourself all the advantages you can to meet that challenge. 

Finally, I can’t stress enough the importance of having someone (at least one person) to run with you. If you think you can get into running shape as a one-man wolf pack, you’re wrong. Even if you chose to listen to music or a podcast and not converse with your fellow runners, there is something about having another person beside you to make you less likely to stop and walk, slack off, etc.

If you want to join a group but don’t know where to start, literally just step out your front door. Packs of runners are everywhere in this town at every time of day, especially on Riverside Drive or Green Street. They’re like packs of stray dogs, but everybody has a Garmin and engages in this weird process called carb-loading. If you find a group that seems to run at your pace, ask if you can join. There’s only a mild chance they’re a roving band of spandex-wearing serial killers. 

While it was tough to get going, I came to enjoy running toward the end of the Couch to 5K program. I started to look forward to it as a great way to end my day.

Between work or family or friend engagements, it’s pretty cool to have 30 minutes in your day where you just think about nothing, except that all those other runners might be spandex-wearing serial killers. But I’ve mostly gotten past that.

Chelsey Abercrombie is a part-time reporter at The Times. She can be reached at