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Potential 5Kers stretch, pray and run
Area church gets couch potatoes up and jogging
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Members of the Couch Potato to 5K course walk around the First Baptist Church parking lot. - photo by J.K. Devine

Couch Potato to 5K course

When: 6 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays

Where: First Baptist Church Family Life Center, 751 Green St. NW, Gainesville

How much: Free

Contact: 770-535-0478

“Running is addictive,” Liz Isandoro said.

“I feel like running has so many more benefits than just the physical for me. I don’t run to stay in shape. I run because I’m happier. I feel more emotionally healthy.”

A few years ago, Isandoro and a group of friends decided they wanted to become runners. They looked online and found a simple, free training guide and used it to get ready for an upcoming 5-kilometer race.

“We did it and all of us have since become half-marathon and marathoners,” Isandoro said. “Running has really become integrated into our lives now.”

Seeing how much of a difference running has made in their lives, three years ago the group decided to start a running course at First Baptist Church of Gainesville as a way to prepare for the Family Life’s Center annual 5K fundraiser, Run for Your Life. The race will be at 9 a.m. Oct. 19 at the American Legion.

The first of the free Couch Potato to 5K meetings brought in 50 people. This year, the group has more than 110 participants who meet either for sunrise or sunset groups.

The couch potatoes meet Monday, Tuesday and Thursday each week for nine weeks to train for the race in October. Many of the runners also take a strength training class led by Kelli Pirkle, a personal trainer at the Family Life Center, before running.

Isandoro, the manager of the church’s Family Life Center on Green Street, said the program has become an outreach opportunity for the church.

“A lot of people get introduced to First Baptist Church through the program,” she said. “Whether they decide to become a part of us as a church or not, we develop a relationship with the community which I think is one of the most awesome benefits.”

Kim Backman and Cinda Hulsey have been running with the group since it started.

Backman laughed and said when she first started she didn’t think she would come back, it seemed too hard. But she kept at it and recently finished her first half marathon.

“It changed my life in 40,000 directions,” Backman said. “We’re both stronger, mentally and physically.”

“We look forward to getting here,” Hulsey said. “We don’t think about anything else. We unwind in this really active class. We never stop. We’ve made a lot of friends and we encourage one another.”

Pirkle said when people are able to exercise together they have more success and fun.

“Anytime you can get together and exercise with a group there’s more accountability,” she said. “It can be a real bonding experience to experience with somebody. It’s the strangest thing. It’s like it’s therapy.”

The group often jokes with each other saying “running is better than therapy.”

Isandoro said when a “couch potato” starts training, they don’t often realize how capable their bodies are. The struggle to keep running isn’t physical but mental.

Pirkle and Isandoro agree their favorite part of the program comes at the end of the fifth week, “magic week” as they call it. At that point the group takes its first long run, 20 minutes nonstop. After that they say, runners are more confident in their bodies and ability.

She said the first four weeks of the program are the hardest, but urges new runners not to give up and think about all the ways running is going to help their lives, physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally.

“We talk a lot about not getting discouraged,” Isandoro said. “That’s a big deal. It is hard to get started in running. Once you get past the 3-mile mark, running becomes much easier.”