Last fall, I volunteered as a mentor for the Fit-tastic walk-to-run program sponsored by The Athlete’s Foot in Raleigh’s Cameron Village. It was the same program that had resuscitated my running career a year earlier (and the one I had written about a year before that while still at The News & Observer). Mentoring, I figured, was the least I could do for a program that had helped reunite me with a love lost for more than 20 years.
What struck me about the program — which, like other walk-to-run programs, aims to make non-runners capable of running a 5K (3.1 miles) in 12 weeks or so — was who was in it: People who detested running. Mostly women, mostly women in the 40-50 range who were finding that their thrice weekly walk around the lake was no longer cutting it, thanks to their slowed metabolism. They hadn’t run much as kids (let alone competitively), they had avoided it as much as possible as adults — save the for the occasional sprint to catch a plane. Yet here they were, showing up three times a week and gradually turning into runners. Or at least faster walkers. These runner wannabees weren’t alone.
Fit-tastic and similar programs that have sprouted over the last few years can’t offer enough programs to meet demand. Most have registration caps to keep participants from becoming lost in the shuffle.
Take the example of Fit-tastic, launched by TAF owner Mike Zimmerman. The first session, in fall 2008, had about 60 participants. A spring program was added in 2009 based on demand, and the sessions have more than doubled in size. “We feel that may be a bit high so we’re looking at capping this spring at 100,” says Zimmerman.
While such programs offer participants the training to run a 5K, not all participants go that route.
“We will have four training groups this spring,” says Zimmerman, “walking, beginning walk/run, intermediate walk/run and running. The walk/run groups are usually the most popular as many participants are ‘repeat offenders’ in the program and have some fitness base. However, we feel it is very important to have the walking and running groups. The walking group is important for those who have never exercised before and need a way to start. Some simply cannot run initially. The running group is important because we want folks to have the chance to develop into true runners.” (Some of the initial participants are now running half marathons, Zimmerman reports.)
Zimmerman says it’s not necessarily the running that attracts people to programs such as his.
“We offer a friendly and supportive atmosphere to all participants regardless of their fitness level or experience. There is always a good bit of trepidation and intimidation for folks who haven’t done this before.” He adds: “We try to remove as much of the fear as possible.”
He says the program is popular, too, because “people bond with others who are going through the same things they are and feel they have a great support group. There are several small groups who have continued to exercise together after the program because they’ve become such good friends.”
Such programs often include an educational element and health screenings, and lest you think the groups are run by poseurs like me, they are not. Trained coaches, people who are or have been active runners, lead each group. “We also pay our coaches and expect them to take their responsibilities seriously,” says Zimmerman.
“We try to educate participants on the need to use this program as a way to transform their lives and develop new habits that will extend beyond the 12 weeks of the program,” Zimmerman adds. “We want people to see this program as a new beginning to the rest of their lives.”
This year’s spring version of Fit-tastic starts March 21. You can find out more about that program as well as other walk-to-run beginner programs in the Triangle and Charlotte below. You can find out more about the walk-to-run approach here and read a story on walk-to-run programs I wrote last year for the Observers (Charlotte and News &) here.
Photo: Runners — and runners-to-be — warm up before a training run at last fall’s Fit-tastic session.
Note: Programs generally do not include registration fee for target race.
Briefly: 11-week program, target race is Race for the Cure 5K on June 11.
Starts: Training begins late March.
Sponsor: Carolina Godiva Track Club.
More info here.
Briefly: 12 weeks, target race is Race for the Cure 5K on June 11.
Starts: March 23 (informational meetings at 7 p.m. Feb. 22, March 15 and 22, at Fleet Feet’s Wade Avenue store.
Sponsor: Fleet Feet, Raleigh.
Cost: $85 until March 15, $90 thereafter.
More info: Fleet Feet at 832-8275 or here.
Briefly: 13 weeks, target race is Race for the Cure 5K on June 11.
Starts: March 21 (informational meetings March 9 and 16 at 6 p.m. at The Athlete’s Foot store in Cameron Village).
Sponsor: The Athlete’s Foot, Raleigh.
More info: 828-3487 or here.
Women’s Beginner Running Program
Briefly: 10 weeks, target race is NCRC Women’s Distance Festival 5K in late September.
Starts: Late July.
Sponsor: N.C. Roadrunners Club.
Cost: $75 (includes club membership).
More info: email@example.com.
Briefly: Five-month program, target race is City of Oaks Marathon and Half Marathon on Nov. 6.
Starts: April 23 with a training marathon seminar featuring Jeff Galloway at the N.C. Museum of Art from 9-11:30 a.m.
Sponsor: Jeff Galloway Training Programs.
Cost: $159 for first-timers, $99 for alumni.
More info: 270-0365 or go here.
Briefly: 11-year-old, 14-week, women-only program, target race is Race for the Cure 5K on June 11.
Starts: March 14, orientation meeting for newcomers is March 1 at 6 p.m. at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill.
Sponsor: Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, NC Cancer Hospital.
More info: 843-8057, or here.
Interval Running Training
Briefly: 8 weeks, target race is 6th Annual Morrison 5K/10K on May 14.
Starts: March 24.
Sponsor: Ballantyne Village YMCA, Charlotte Cost: $35, $25 for facility members.
More info: (704) 716-4680 or here.
Run for You
Briefly: 9 weeks, target race for current session: Great Harvest Bread Co. 5K on May 21.
Starts: Ongoing, next session starts March 21 at Run for You’s Dilworth store, March 22 at the Piper Glen location.
Sponsor: Run for Your Life, Charlotte.
Cost: $99 new members, $89 program alumni.
More info: (704) 541-9665, or the Web site.
Briefly: Five-month program, target races vary.
Sponsor: Jeff Galloway Training Programs.
Cost: $159 for first-time marathoners, $99 for marathon alumni, $95 for first-time half-marathoners, $75 for half-marathon alumni.
More info: firstname.lastname@example.org.