Running your first 5-kilometer race can be intimidating.
But there’s help for those just starting out.
“This is truly a couch to 5k challenge,” said Kristen Hislop, a co-director of the Training Challenge. Now in its eighth year, the Challenge has helped over a thousand women get ready for the Freihofer’s Run for Women on June 2. The Training Challenge begins on March 19, though runners have until April 1 to register.
Hislop is a physical trainer by profession, helping to train both athletes and non-athletes for marathons and intensive races. But her work with the Challenge involves not only training but building a community of support, especially for new runners. She found that many of the women signing up for the race were new to the sport.
“The challenge was that a lot of women would sign up for the race and not know how to train,” Hislop said.
She and the Freihofer’s co-director Patrick Lynskey found that women needed something else before the race to help jump-start their training and to supplement it. Since starting the program, they’ve expanded and now have intermediate training sessions for those who ran in previous years and are looking for more of a challenge, as well as an advanced group for those who regularly run five miles or more.
“One of the great things about this program is that it’s so comprehensive,” Lynskey said.
The Challenge partnered with several Capital District YMCAs to give participants a three-month membership, which includes free childcare. The trainers hold running sessions at a variety of times and places (from Albany to Saratoga) each week, and they bring in nutritionists, personal trainers, and other presenters. A few fitness boutiques, like OrangeTheory Fitness, Founders HIIT and Strength Club and Powerhouse Athletics are offering class package deals for those taking the Challenge. There are also mentors at every workout.
“We have over 40 mentors and a ton of new locations [for training sessions],” said Becky Tennyson, who is the head coach for the Challenge (and for Brunswick Central School District’s varsity cross country team).
One such mentor, Eleanora Morrell, said she always tells women “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”
She started running in 2005, during a community challenge for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Morrell, who had never really been a runner, found herself going to the YMCA to run and forming friendships with women who encouraged her to take things further. She was soon running triathlons and eventually completed a half Ironman.
“I’ll be running my sixth marathon in May,” Morrell said.
But she said it’s crucial to have that community of encouragement.
“They’ve given me the strength to challenge myself,” Morrell said. And it’s a strength she wants to pass on to other runners. She usually mentors the beginning group of runners when they join the program, helping them to keep a steady pace but not push themselves too hard.
The sessions for the beginner groups are usually three to four days a week and start out “easy,” with a short run and workout.
“It’s a progression, so they don’t feel overwhelmed,” Hislop said.
The mentors and coaches help the beginners build up to regularly running several miles. The intermediate and advanced groups might do interval training and longer workouts, pushing themselves in different ways each training session.
“To see them succeed . . . it’s something different. We’re competitive within ourselves but not with each other,” Morrell said.
Hislop admits that not everyone is excited to train at first.
“It’s amazing how many women do it who hated running the mile [at first],” Hislop said, “There will be people who hate running when they start.”
Like local radio host Kelly Lynch.
“It [took] maybe two or three years until she loved running,” Hislop said.
But even after the Challenge is done, it has a way of staying with people.
“People come through the training challenge and get so excited for the race and then they don’t know what to do,” Hislop said.
The mentors and others in the group encourage one another to run other local races. Since the first Challenge, a group of women has been regularly pounding the pavement at Peebles Island State Park and in the area.
To find out more about the program visit freihofersrun.com.
Here’s a glance at the weekly training schedule. Beginners usually do a total of three workouts, twice during the week and one on Saturday. But all sessions are open.
Mondays: The Corning Preserve 6:30 a.m. (until there is morning light and then it will move to 6:00 a.m.) or The Crossings of Colonie (either 1 p.m. or 6 p.m.)
Wednesdays 6 p.m. at: Capital District Y branches: Southern Saratoga, Glenville, Duanesburg, Greene County or Troy &Founders HIIT and Strength Club in Delmar Power House Athletics in Colonie
Thursdays: 9 a.m. at iRun LOCAL in Saratoga Springs
Saturdays: 8:30 a.m. at Colonie Mohawk River Park. Guest speakers often give presentations on the Saturday sessions.