WINDHAM — It’s teamwork, friendship, sports and support all rolled into a program that encourages people to learn to run or revisit the sport.
Though there have been many challenges over the past year for those who love to take to the local trails and roadways for a run, the Couch to 5K program is about to get a new start next month.
The Greater Derry Track Club’s Couch to 5K program begins its ninth season on Tuesday, May 4, inviting people to join in for the spring program to learn all about stretching and jogging while embarking on the ultimate goal of participating in the track club's Run for Freedom in Derry on July 4, a race that raises money every year to support homeless veterans through Manchester’s Liberty House.
More than 300 people have participated in the program.
Couch to 5K began several years ago through a partnership with Parkland Medical Center in Derry, joining dozens of people in its inaugural year to learn all about warming up 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 weekly challenge.
John McGarry, a longtime member of the Greater Derry Track Club, said the club offers many opportunities for its members to prepare for marathons and other running programs. A key piece of community outreach was missing — that led to the inception of Couch to 5K.
Some come to learn to run. For others, it’s been years since they tied on their shoes to take to the track or road. Track club members and Couch to 5K participants form bonds, sharing their joy of taking to the open road, gathering at each other’s homes for regular runs, and taking on challenges in marathons and other races.
The program also includes information on proper running form, diet, the right shoes and clothes, and how to deal with aches and pains.
McGarry said the pandemic has posed many challenges for the track club and those who love to run, but a goal is to keep people safe as they participate in running events.
"We feel very confident putting on a safe and successful program this spring," McGarry said. "With additional data being provided about the safety of being outdoors and the number of people vaccinated, we believe this is the perfect time to motivate people to train for a 5K."
He added as much as people have had opportunities during the pandemic to buy bikes, kayak, or hike there hasn't been much opportunity to be together as a group.
"The real value of our Couch to 5K program is that people can work together in a structured training program to have success," McGarry said. "Our goal is not to just get people to complete a 5K. It is to motivate people to add a consistent exercise program that stays with them the rest of their lives."
After the May 4 kick-off, the Couch to 5K program continues Tuesdays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. at the Windham Rail Trail at 6 Depot Road. For information about the program or the Greater Derry Track Club, visit gdtc.org.