Is there anything more daunting than joining a group running class? Step 1: sign up. Step 2: show up. Step 3: Get to work. Step 4: Stick with it. Step 5: Reach your goals
Last spring, I offered a 20 week training program for runners to train throughout the summer for various running goals. Forty-one people signed up. Forty-one people showed up the first day – scared. All of them reached their goals.
While I coach runners of all levels, I have to admit my favorite is the beginner runner. The one who can’t run a mile. The one who has no idea what they are capable of. The one who doesn’t believe in themselves. The one who is scared of taking the first step. I was once there myself. When I started running, I didn’t have a coach. I didn’t have a clue. I just went out and ran. I couldn’t run a mile. I thought I would die. I didn’t believe in myself. I just wanted to be healthy and happy. Eventually running brought me those things and so much more.
In a town with barely 3000 residents where attendance for these types of classes is generally low, I was astonished and flattered how many people were interested.
If you live you in Telluride, you know about this little running race called the Imogene Pass Run. It taunts you. The 13,114 foot summit looms over you. It’s a “bucket list” item. People stare at it every day and wonder what it would be like to conquer the grueling 17 mile foot race which begins in the town of Ouray and finishes in Telluride after climbing over a mountainous pass. When asked why people do this race, the common answer is, as Sir Edmond Hilary said about climbing Everest, “Because it’s there.”
Needless to say, in the 4 years I’ve been training runners in Telluride, about 80% of my business comes from those with the goal to run the Imogene. This year was no different.
Training began on April 29 and ran through September 9. The idea was to have a cohesive group start together, progress together and finish together. Runners met once each week for group training class (hill repeats, intervals, time trials, etc) and followed a schedule I provided them for the rest of the week.
Of the 41 runners who originally signed up, about 35 consistently attended class and 30 finished the Imogene Pass Run, many of them together, as new friends. Others finished marathons, 50K trail runs, Half Marathons or simply came for the exercise, new friends and coffee after class. No matter what their goal, this class helped them achieve it and made them believe in themselves and realize just how much potential they had.
“The class was such a joy. I learned so much more than I ever thought about myself and others and what great strong spirits we all have.” Melissa Ramponi
The first day of class was a very cold spring morning. People showed up in cotton t-shirts, down coats, winter hats and dusty, worn out shoes obviously dug from the depths of their closets. We huddled inside Telluride Boot Doctors, a local sports store where classes meet. Fear was weighing heavy in the room like a lack of oxygen at high altitude. The pale, ashen color on most people’s faces told me they were scared. I really felt for them. I knew the feeling. I later learned just how many people considered not showing up to the first class. They were so nervous they thought they would throw up in front of everyone.
The first day is simply an assessment for me to see what I am working with for the next 20 weeks. The assignment was to run an “Out & Back” run where they ran for 10 minutes, turned around and ran 10 minutes back to the gym. Many people were runners with a slight base under their belt. Others barely ran 3 minutes before they had to stop, walk and catch their breath. All of them trudged their way down the bike path for 10 minutes; run, walk, jog, walk, crawl, cry, hyperventilate. I zigzagged my way through the crowd on my baby blue colored cruiser bike with the front basket full of water bottles, down coats and winter hats no longer needed on this physical journey. I checked in, asked how people were doing and told them they looked great and I was so proud of them for signing up and coming to class. I checked out technique, base fitness levels and knew I had my work cut out for me. I was so excited.
We returned to the store and the pale, ashen colored faces were now beet red. Sweat was pouring out of their pores, despite the cold, crisp morning. Tears were hiding behind dark sunglasses. Oh dear, I don’t mean to make you cry. I’ve shed many tears myself. It’s okay.
Consistency is key. That is the first thing I’ll teach you. While the workouts get harder, nothing is as hard as that first day. Stick with the schedule, come to class and it will only get easier. “This class did not disappoint! Its emphasis on injury free training techniques made getting back in shape for race goals not only feasible, but actually enjoyable. I can assure you, that if you follow Jill’s training schedule you will attain your goals.” Tom Conner.
The summer weeks carried on. We met each Wednesday morning at 7:15 and 9:15am. After the fear of the first class had dissipated, anxious, eager runners showed up like it was church. We spent the first few weeks going over technique and building a strong aerobic base. The next thing I’ll teach you is that you can never run too slowly in the warm up or the first few weeks of a running program. They practiced technique, they ran slow and they got strong. Next was hill work (building strength). They raced up and down hills (not hard to come by in Telluride). We met at the top of the ski mountain (accessed via free gondola) to train at 11,000 feet; up and down hills. They did speed work. “I absolutely loved this class! I don’t like interval training, but Jill had me do it and I am a stronger runner.” Tracey Kurek. They learned how to breathe at 9000 feet. They learned what shoes to wear (Altra Zero Drop!!!) www.altrarunning.com. They became winners.
September 9th, 5:30am.
Imogene Race day: The Boot Doctors van is parked in front of the San Miguel County Courthouse ready to pick us up for the Imogene Pass Run in Ouray. The remainder of our group met us at the start line. They are not alone. I help calm their nerves. It’s a beautiful morning. The gun goes off. I run with them about 5 miles up, up, up the steep, rocky terrain out of Ouray. I reach the first aid station at Lower Camp Bird and cheer them through. The altitude is already getting to me and they have 12 more miles to go. I trust they are well trained. I run down to Ouray, drive back to Telluride and cheer everyone through the finish line.
This year, the overall fastest times for the Imogene Pass Run were 2 hours 25 minutes (male) and 2 hours 41 minutes (female) which I have a hard time conceiving as I can’t run that fast on a downhill highway much less battling uphill, altitude and loose, rocky downhill. The finishing times for our training group were 3 hours 33 minutes to 6 hours 30 minutes with the majority finishing between 4 and 5 hours. But, what’s in a time? After all, they finished. Each and every runner who trained with me reached their goal. They did it! And with a smile on their face. (In truth, I had to remind many of them to smile as they crossed the finish line.)
The girl who almost skipped that first class due to extreme nerves and nausea also almost bailed on the Imogene. I encouraged her to “just do it!” “Thank you Jill! Your class was invaluable and I’m grateful for your encouragement to run this race – it was a very cool experience.” Sharon Pack.
The girl with tears behind her dark sunglasses on that first day, not only finished the Imogene, but finished with the largest grin on her face. I had the pleasure of running across the finish line holding her hand high in the air. She is strong. She is beautiful. She followed the schedule and did everything I told her to do from what to eat, what to wear and which backpack to buy. She continues to run and has signed up for a Half Marathon in October. She will reach for the Marathon next fall.
To watch runners struggle to run 3 minutes on the first day of class, then watch them run over 5 hours, cover 17 miles while reaching an altitude of 13,000 feet is absolutely amazing. This is why I love what I do; in the service of those who love what I do. Thank you to the following most amazing, inspiration students who love what I do.