Writing primarily about maintenance and weight loss over the past two years has allowed me to meet some very interesting people online. Chances are, if you’ve stumbled over my blog it’s because you are looking to connect with someone who has similar interests. I expect to find health conscious people visiting me on a daily basis here; but imagine my surprise when I met a like-minded, kind and interesting woman by the name of Laurie while on vacation in Florida this past May. Before Craig and I left to return home, she and I exchanged contact information and we’ve been emailing each other ever since.
Laurie, along with the local Fleet Feet Sports store in her hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, bring together people of all ages and sizes and lead them in a program called No Boundaries. This program targets beginners and is structured to help them cross the finish line of their first 5K.
Hello. My name is Ellen and I am not a runner, but if I walked into a Fleet Feet store and came face-to-face with the following poster, it just might force me to reconsider that which I think defines me.
As I learned more about Laurie and what she does for the health conscious community I simply couldn’t resist asking for an interview. Luckily she said yes, and I’m grateful to help spread the word about people like Laurie, Fleet Feet Sports, and the programs they sponsor like No Boundaries.
First though, here’s a bit of an introduction about Laurie:
At the age of 38 she signed up for the Race for the Cure 5K in Knoxville. Though she never ran before, she was doing strength training and walking around 20 miles a week. She and a group were supposed to walk the course. A few however, decided to run so Laurie ran as well. When the others took a walk break, she just kept on running. That was in 1997 and she’s never looked back. “Crossing that finish line gave me an amazing sense of accomplishment, and I’ve been running ever since,” said Laurie. “I have completed approximately 250 races of various distances over the last 15 years, including three 100 mile relays and one 200 mile relay. So far this year I have run half marathons in Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina. I competed in the Palm 100, a 6-person, 100 mile relay from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach and back. I enjoy traveling to races, and hope to run a half marathon in all 50 states. I still have 38 states to go!”
When I asked Laurie to share some of her favorite races, I could tell that narrowing them down wasn’t going to be an easy task.
“Some of my favorite local races are Hot to Trot on Thanksgiving Day, which is a Fleet Feet sponsored race that gives pottery mugs to age group winners. The store owners choose a charity to support each year,” she said. “Also, New Year’s Day 5K where the first 100 runners of each gender to cross the finish line receive a wine glass; the Santa Hustle half marathon and 5K, where everyone receives a Santa shirt, hat & beard to wear during the race; the Norris Dam 12K Challenge, which is a hilly, winter race in a state park, and where the post race refreshments include a chili competition; and the Cross Knox 10 Miler, which is run entirely on greenways. I like to do any race that benefits a cause.”
I’d never heard of Fleet Feet Sports since there isn’t a store located in my area, so I asked Laurie a bit about the program and how she became involved in helping others find the joy of running.
“I became involved with Fleet Feet when I completed the Triathlon 101 program and began coaching in February 2011,” she said. “The No Boundaries program is a Fleet Feet Sports couch to 5K training program. There are two coach-led training sessions per week, and a training plan is provided for the other days.”
Laurie is a certified Fleet Feet coach, which means that she had to attend their training program, pass an exam and obtain First Aid/CPR certification. She currently coaches the No Boundaries and Next Steps program, which is a 10K training program. Not challenging enough for you? No worries, because Fleet Feet offers training programs for half marathons, marathons, and triathlons as well.
What piqued my interest in the No Boundaries program however, was that, dare I say – even I could do it; that it would be something I’d actually be interested in doing! “Anyone who is healthy enough to walk can participate in the No Boundaries program,” said Laurie. “We have 3 No Boundaries programs each year, and each program has a goal race. Some participants walk the race, some run/walk, and some run the entire distance. Many of our participants go on to the Next Steps or Long Distance programs. Some repeat the No Boundaries program to improve their time and/or to keep themselves accountable. If you don’t show up for training, you will be contacted to see if you’re alright.”
“We offer clinics on hydration, nutrition, and gear selection. Coaches can be contacted via email between training sessions. Once a month, a local physical therapy office comes to the store for free evaluations. We want people to succeed, and try to equip them with the tools they need.”
Listening to Laurie talk about the No Boundaries Program made me wonder if I might be better off training in a group environment instead of using my standby method: a C25K IPhone app and my treadmill. I asked her a bit more about the types of people that she trains.
“Fleet Feet provides a comfortable environment for people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Some of our participants struggle with walking a mile, and others can run that distance. There are participants with issues such as arthritis, diabetes, and obesity. Children may participate in a training program if a parent is also enrolled, and we have participants in their 70s,” she said.
“The participants are very supportive of each other, and form friendships that last beyond the end of the program. As long as their doctor approves, they can participate. Some of our participants have reached a certain age and realized that they need to take care of themselves in order to take care of their families. Others were athletic when they were younger, and want to return to a healthy lifestyle. I have watched some of my first trainees go from completing a 5K to completing a half marathon in less than a year. Others are sticking with the 5K and 10K distances. There’s a place for everyone at Fleet Feet.”
Finally, I asked what inspires her most about the participants in the program. “I am most inspired by our participants who are a little overweight, in less than optimal physical condition, and who aren’t convinced they can actually cover the 5K distance,” she said. “To watch their transformation over 8 to 10 weeks is wonderful. The self-confidence gained by completing the program and crossing the finish line of their goal race is hard to describe, and many of them are moved to tears. The coaches certainly are!”
Interested? Just walk into your local Fleet Feet Store and ask about their No Boundaries Program or one of the many other training programs they offer. If you’re like me and don’t have a Fleet Feet store nearby, Laurie suggests to use Google and do a little research on what is available locally such as running clubs. Perhaps even some employers might offer a similar program.
“The first step is the hardest,” said Laurie. “But the majority of runners are nice people who enjoy helping others enjoy running.”
I think it’s fantastic to know that these types of resources exist. Sometimes it’s easier to take that first step when you’re surrounded with knowledgeable people who want to support you in a safe, encouraging, positive environment. Many thanks to Laurie and Fleet Feet of Knoxville, Tennessee, for providing such an important service to their community.
Have you participated in a Fleet Feet Program or similar running program in your area?