Lebanon — Paul Courtney wanted to run again. He just didn’t know where to start. That is, until he and his wife, Carrie, found the Upper Valley Running Club’s Couch-to-5K program, whose runners participated in the five-kilometer division of the Lebanon Recreation Department’s Red, White & Blue 6.2 road race Monday morning on the Northern Rail Trail.
Just like that, Courtney — a Lebanon resident who works in Boston — felt like a runner.
“My usual way of getting back into something is going full-tilt, remembering when I was 25. I’m 61 now,” Courtney said, stretching on the grass at Colburn Park. “The body doesn’t work the same way.
“I would run until it felt good, but that would pass,” he added. “In my 20s, that always worked. It didn’t work. I’d be sore for a couple days, really wiped out. I kept thinking, ‘Well, I have to do something else to get back into it.’ This was the best way.”
Monday marked the second Couch-to-5K, a beginner training program focused on targeting a demographic of people looking to get back in shape. For a $35 fee, runners — though most don’t consider themselves in that category — received 10 weeks of personal training from UVRC coaches. The payoff was registration in Monday’s race.
For some, like Angie Hinton, this was their second year participating in the program, which she said has been everything one can ask for when it comes to getting back in shape.
“I would have thought I am way too old to be starting this and doing this now,” Hinton said with a laugh. “I look at some of these kids, the adrenaline junkies, and I said, ‘I can’t do that.’ But with the time they start, it’s a very good program. We start it so early. You’re thinking, ‘I can’t do this; there’s no way.’ Before you know it, it’s race day.”
Kim Sheffield, a former Lebanon High cross country coach who helps organize the program as a member of UVRC, said having an introductory option for people looking to get back into running, or start running for the first time, was something that UVRC lacked several years ago.
“We wanted to reach out to the community,” Sheffield said over the phone on Sunday. “Even though we’re a running club, you don’t necessarily have to be some awesome runner to join. We wanted to make that clear. … This is a really good way to get beginning runners.”
In only its second year, the Couch-to-5K program has grown by a third; thirty people came out to participate in Monday’s race, all donning blue and white Couch-to-5K T-shirts. Sheffield said the program’s growth will likely force UVRC to consider adding on a second 10-week program for a race in the spring. Currently, the program runs once a year, culminating in a local 5K race during the summer.
“The club has always had the effort underway to try and get new runners in, not quite the experienced runners that many of these runners are,” said Joe Frazier, who ran his second Couch-to-5K on Monday. “This has certainly been the most successful, I’d say.
“You have a lot of people coming out who are really, really concerned if they can do it,” Frazier added. “For me, I had a desk job. I was way overweight. I wanted to lose weight. I’m down 30 pounds now. … I emphasize things like that. You can do it.”
For some runners, self-induced intimidation was one of their biggest hurdles to conquer, particularly early on.
“This is easily the best program I’ve ever done,” said Robin Lyman, in her first year in the program. “Being so out of shape, I definitely felt like these people were going to be like, ‘Oh crap, we have to wait for this girl,’ But they weren’t like that at all. They were all super-supportive. … I’m going to keep running for sure. I already signed up for another 5K in August.”
For others, the Couch-to-5K program was simply a change of pace.
“I just needed something different,” Hinton said. “You go to the gym; a couch potato is you push some weights around, you move them around, OK. I wanted something challenging. I really wanted a challenge. I saw the flyer. It said, ‘We can take you from the couch to the trail.’ I said, ‘No you can’t.’ ”
Hinton shaved five minutes off her time from a year ago and said she’ll go out for her third Couch-to-5K race next summer.
For UVRC members like Frazier and Sheffield, the program has opened plenty of doors. They just hope it continues to grow.
“It’s a good thing for the people participating, and it’s a good thing for the club, too,” Frazier said. “Finally, they’ve been able to draw people in who are just afraid that they’re not up for the Upper Valley Running Club.”
Josh Weinreb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3306.