New & Noteworthy
A couch can be a warm, comfy, part of someone's everyday life, offering a secure zone where people can relax with family and friends after a long day at work. But many people will challenge themselves to climb off that comfortable couch this spring to participate in an annual ritual that draws out those who want to try something new, or find their way back to a former favorite activity.
For those signing up for the Greater Derry Track Couch to 5K Program this year, it's an opportunity to take to the area's roadways and neighborhoods to practice running skills while embarking on a journey to good health. It's a way to be introduced to running for the first time. It can be a return to an old friend that once was a hobby or regular physical fitness routine.
The Couch to 5K program begins Tuesday, May 9, and runs for eight weeks, teaching participants all about running, how to get started, proper stretching, what to wear and how to pace themselves, all in preparation for the annual Run for Freedom in Derry on July 4th. Runners meet twice a week at the Windham Rail Trail, Tuesdays at 6 p.m. and again Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. The program is the only known free Couch to 5K training program in the state.
Springing into shape
Program organizer and track club member John McGarry of Windham said the program began as a way to reach out more to the community while promoting good health and running skills.
An early relationship about five years ago with Parkland Medical Center in Derry helped kick-start the program, joining dozens of people in the inaugural year to learn all about warming up, stretching and the basics of running.
The track club eventually made the program its own, continuing to welcome runners of all levels every spring to take on the eight-week challenge, leading up to a grand finale outing in the Run for Freedom race, another club effort that raises money every year to support homeless veterans through Manchester's Liberty House.
McGarry said the track club has many running opportunities for athletes of all levels, including races to prepare runners for marathons and a very popular summer running program for children. But a major piece of community outreach was missing, McGarry said. That led to the inception of Couch to 5K.
"It is designed for beginning runners or those who ran in the past," McGarry said. "They got to the point where they wanted to make the commitment. The hardest part can be making the commitment."
McGarry knows for a fact how running can be a lifelong journey. While growing up in Connecticut, he was the typical teen who competed in track in high school. "I was a pretty decent runner," he said. "I ran all the time."
There were college opportunities to continue on the track, but McGarry said he chose a path that led him to a college without a running program. "I always had that yearning to get back," he said. He eventually landed in Windham to raise a family and found his way to the Greater Derry Track Club.
Finding the right path
McGarry said the program starts with a gradual introduction to the basics, followed in the weeks ahead by more training on other aspects of running. Participants can start with simple jogging in place, then walking and eventually working up to a longer distance and time on the trail course. The ultimate goal is running in the Run for Freedom. It's also an education.
McGarry said "It's not just about running, it's about all the other things needed for success." the proper clothing to wear, how to stretch and just the friendship involved by being part of a group with similar interests.
Running is a top exercise choice for many people, McGarry added, due to its simplicity. "You can wake up, put some shoes on and go outside," he said. "It's also very much an independent activity."
The Couch to 5K program boasts hundreds of graduates, many staying as members of the Greater Derry Track Club and forging friendships that continue. Members of the club and program graduates gather regularly on Saturday mornings to chat, enjoy a neighborhood run, then share a meal after. Runners take turns hosting the events.
On one chilly morning recently, McGarry hosted several dozen runners at his Windham home. First on the menu, a gathering of people in McGarry's living room to connect and plan the neighborhood run. The run was followed by bagels, juice and other breakfast items.
Why they run
Paul Schofield, who joined the Couch to 5K program last year, said he never quite imagined himself a runner. "Running was the last thing I ever thought of doing," he said. "But it's good for you and these people treat you like gold." That's because there is a wonderful sort of bonding, a group hug so to speak, among the runners who make up this group and the track club in general.
Running puts participants out on the streets in all kinds of weather, with many on the sidelines and behind the scenes always cheering them on toward a goal, whether it's completing a 5K or a 1-miler, or just a gentle traipse around a neighborhood with friends on a brisk Saturday morning.
Charles Morganson of Derry had a different approach. He joined the Couch to 5K program to acclimate himself once again to the joys of being a runner. "I wanted to get serious about running," he said. "And it is teamwork. You recognize people, you know people. There are races for all ages and we help each other."
For many, it's a chance to rediscover running after many years of not being involved. For others, it's a new thing. Still others hope for an improvement in their health.
Sharad Vidyarthy of Windham was a runner two decades ago. "For me, it was getting back into it for health," he said. For whatever reason one joins the program, it is a true testament to the commitment of those who plan and implement it that participants succeed at their own level, run at their own pace, and finish the race on their own terms. That includes paying respect and tribute to McGarry for his leadership and hard work. "It changed my life," Morganson noted. "I feel better."
People find out about the program through various channels, such as a friend's suggestion or a notice in a local coffee shop. "I'm grateful my dear friend saw the flier at BeanTowne Coffee and shared the info with me," Kalila Foster said. Foster said she felt "brand new" after completing the Couch to 5K and said there was a long list of things that contributed to her success. That included the support, encouragement and lack of judgment, which she called "comforting."
"There were runners from all walks of life and we all meshed and became one with a common goal to run and complete a 5K," Foster said in her testimonial. "Everyone was so encouraging and supportive and many friendships were forged. The phrase 'strength in numbers' holds true."
McGarry sees success in many of the people who have completed the program and are still his running comrades to this day. The program's numbers continue to grow. It's a springtime ritual that can bring not only healthy living, but also a chance to meet new friends and share the joys of the open road.
"The satisfying part for me is that they are still at it," McGarry said.
More info: Couch to 5K Program (Free!)
Music/Food/Dancing to follow
Under 10 years of age $10
"Join us for a Run For Healing to raise funds to purchase Accuvein, a life-saving vein viewing system for Hadassah Hospital and relief teams." For more information see the attached flyer and visit: http://nh4israel.org
Caryn Pepin has been a GDTC member for many years and attends every club event either as a participant or a volunteer. She demonstrates all the things that the club looks for in a Member of the Year recipient.
Caryn hosts a fun run every winter (usually on the coldest day of the year) and is always at the starting line representing Greater Derry at all of the NH Grand Prix races. She has been a Granite Runner for four years straight - a club record. Not only has she run in all eight yearly races, she has won her age group three times!
Beyond running, Caryn is an all around athlete, participating in multi-spot individual and team events. She is also an avid Boston sports fan and frequents the TD North Garden for Bruins and Celtics games.
For this and more, we are pleased to honor Caryn Pepin as GDTC Member of the year for 2016.
(L to R) Colleen Falardeau, Caryn Pepin (4-time winner!), Eric Dodge and Carolyn Morgenstern. Not pictured: Eddie Clements, Brian Ki and Amanda Blanchard. To become a Granite Runner you had to finish all 8 races of the 2016 NHGP. The races were held over an 8 month period and held all over the state. Quite an accomplishment!!