Walk, don’t run

“Squeeze your butt and take full steps,” Kpop (a k a Karley Poplestein), 02 Fitness trainer by day/walking coach by early evening instructed as we began walking from The Athlete’s Foot in Cameron Village to the nearby Rose Garden. That’s a … curious request, I thought. Fortunately, before I could reach behind and grab my buns while taking full steps I noticed my cowalkers were clinching their gluteus maximus, not palming them.

When I pulled a hamstring early last week playing a pick-up game of kickball, my Fit-tastic running coach, Tim Clark, prescribed a recovery program centering around the RICE — Rest Ice Compression Elevation — approach. And no running, he insisted. Walking, however, was OK. So I decided to tag along with Fit-tastic’s walking component on our weekly Thursday evening workout.

When Fit-tastic was launched in fall 2008, it was conceived as training program intended to take a non-runner and make him or her cable of running a 5K in just 12 weeks. In the two sessions since — spring and this fall — the program has evolved. The current program has five levels, ranging from folks who ran but wanted to run faster and farther, to those just starting out who simply wanted to walk the distance (3.1 miles by American measure). Since I’d been doing a 6-mile trail run once a week, I signed on with the faster/farther group.

I learned quickly that only speed separates the groups.

“I needed the discipline,” Kathy Kidd told me as we kept a brisk pace up Stafford Avenue. Kidd is an entomologist with the state who used to get out in the field more. When she became Biological Control Administer for the state Department of Agriculture, she wound up spending more time in the office. She tried to compensate with walks around the neighborhood, but those were sporadic. She signed on with Fit-tastic last spring, expressing a sentiment I’ve heard over and over: Perhaps a little company would help her commitment. Especially on those days when you really, really don’t feel like working out, but the group is expecting you.

As has been the case with others in the program, she noticed an immediate change in her health.

“My cholesterol is down,” she said.

She’s learned to deal with injuries that might once have dampened her desire to work out.

“I was having shin pain,” Kidd told me. “The coaches — the coaches are great — showed me how stretching can make a difference.”

While Kidd’s goal with this session is to walk the graduation Monster Dash 5k on Oct. 25, the 51-year-old N.C. State grad thinks she may continue with the program and eventually run the race.

Curious about what that next step might entail, I caught up Fit-tastic’s walkers-to-runners coach Sean Kurdys. Sean said the walk-to-run group began in August by running two minutes, then walking for one. Last week, the group was up to 10 minutes of sustained running interspersed with four-minute walking intervals. Starting this week, the group would bump the running segments to 12 minutes, their peak. “After that, we’ll work on running faster.”

Kurdy’s typically coaches elite runners, working with them to tweak their style to trim a second or two from their time. The walk-to-run program required a little research. “I looked around on the internet, looked at Runner’s World, talked to Team in Training and the Galloway people.” That’s how he came up with his run/walk regimen.

He’s also engaged in that time-honored staple of coaching: playing mind games. A couple weeks ago he told his group not to worry about the 10 minutes running/four minutes walking protocol. “Just run when you want, walk when you need to,” he told them. They headed west on Clark Avenue, turned right on Oberlin Road, went up past Craig Street, turned around and came back. A lot of his group ran nearly the whole thing.

“Well,” he told the group when they got back, “at least now you know you can do a 5K.”

What do you mean? they asked.

“You just did the course,” he told them. “That was it.”

Ah, coaches.

* * *

I’m a former runner, ran mostly 10Ks until back and knee issues grounded my waffle trainers when I hit 30. Twenty-three years later (and a few pounds lighter), I decided to try a 5K, the Oct. 25 Monster Dash. Read previous posts about my experience and the experiences of my fellow runners and walkers in the Fit-tastic program by searching “Fit-tastic.

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