Walkers on a run

Carla Allen
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More people than ever before appear to be enjoying the natural high from running, thanks in part to Mike and Liz Walker.

The Walkers moved to Yarmouth from Kingston, Ontario, two and a half years ago. Six months later they investigated a local running program organized by Runner’s Attic. The number of participants was low at first.

As former owners of a printing business they decided to help pump up those numbers. After designing and printing posters about the program, they distributed them to local businesses.

Yarmouth Recreation, formerly Leisure Services, handled registration for the clinic. A modest fee attracted serious participants, who received a t-shirt for signing up.

“We cut it off at 25. It filled immediately and there was a waiting list for the first year,” said Liz.

The couple began teaching and encouraging others and soon had a strong following.

They are well acquainted with the benefits of running.

 Twelve years ago, Mike, at over 300-pounds, required a pacemaker. It failed and he had another implanted. Realizing that he had to lose weight, he signed up for cardiac rehabilitation. It was a big day when he was able to do one solid minute on the treadmill after eight months.

Liz, at over 210-lbs, joined the health kick. They changed their lifestyle drastically, adopting a low-fat diet with very little red meat, substituting texturized vegetable protein.

In six months they lost 185 lbs. between them. After losing the weight they evolved from walking to running.

“The next thing we’re training for a race, on the treadmill,” said Mike.

Their first “agonizing race” was in 2000.

“Because I was 54 years old I started almost immediately getting medals,” said Liz.

She’s completed six marathons and eight half marathons since then. At that first race they met people who told them about different running groups.

Now, in training others, they’ve witnessed the benefits of running, including improvements in those with asthma and other various ailments.

The Learn to Run clinic (also known as the Yarmouth Runs program) begins with a 10-minute warm-up, one minute run and one minute walk repeated 10 times, then a 10-minute cool-down and stretch.

Gradually the running time is increased. By the tenth week participants are up to a 10-minute run and a one-minute walk for six kilometers.

“It’s incredible watching people start. They’re all standing there with this fear on their face,” said Liz.

“There’s no pressure on anyone to go fast. There are different groups at different speeds.”

Many of those who have completed the program return as helpers, volunteering their time to run beside and encourage others.

On one occasion an 86-year-old woman joined the group for one run, completing it faster than Liz. The youngest runners are 19.

I’m addicted to it. You feel so good when you’ve finished a run. Liz Walker

“I’m addicted to it. You feel so good when you’ve finished a run. Everyone says that. It’s a very addictive sport. Runners are 99 per cent nice people and you meet people from all aspects of life. You’ve got doctors, plumbers, electricians, and nurses… it’s such a spread,” said Liz.

“It’s wonderful, the socializing that goes on. We’re having house parties now,” added Mike.

The program takes place on Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. from Runners Attic on Main Street. A group of runners also meet Tuesdays (5:30 p.m. from City Drugs) and Saturdays (9 a.m. from Runners Attic) and the Running Addicts (an offshoot of the program) train on Sundays at 10 a.m. for marathons.

Former participants of the Yarmouth program have started another running group in West Pubnico.

The Walkers inform runners that they have to be able to carry on a conversation as they are running.

“That’s the one thing we insist on. It’s the talk test. We don’t want you to run hard enough that you’re not able to talk,” said Liz.

Another test involves holding potato chips, in the hand. The challenge isn’t to not eat them, it’s to not crush them.

“People have a tendency to run with clenched fists and tense shoulders, so this teaches them to relax their hands,” said Mike.

Many of the runners are now entering marathons and races. Some are even talking of a running excursion in Greece next year.

The Walkers say that Yarmouth is an excellent training ground for runners because it has extremely cold weather at times, has high winds and hills.

“We did the Wolfville half marathon a few years ago and it was so windy and hilly, I said I’d never do it again. But the following year, after training in Yarmouth and running all the hills, I knocked over 15 minutes off my time,” said Liz.

She brings out a large poster board covered with photos of her runners after races and points to several.

“That is what really inspires us. Look at those smiles. I’m proud of them.”

She turned 65 on Feb. 26. To celebrate, the week before, she ran 65 km, (10 km each day, except for, understandably, five on her birthday.)

The next intake for the Learn to Run clinic is in mid-April. There is already a waiting list (without the program being advertised.)

For more information, call 902-742-8868 or visit the Yarmouth Recreation website.

Organizations: Leisure Services

Geographic location: Yarmouth, Kingston, Ontario West Pubnico.The Walkers Greece

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