In much the same way that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, a run of 3.1065815596 miles begins at the starting line. But for a beginning runner, stepping up to the starting line of a five-kilometer run can be every bit as daunting as taking that first step in Lao Tzu's proverbial 1,000-mile journey.
Recognizing this, the owners of Madison's Fleet Feet Sports franchise are importing the nationwide chain's No Boundaries 5K Training Program to the west-side store this spring. Designed for beginning runners, the 12-week program begins April 23. The goal: to help participants get to the starting line of their first 5K and - 3.1065-something miles later - to cross the finish line.
"A 5K is a great starting distance," explains Megan Suhonen, the Madison store's new marketing director. When she took her husband's Finnish surname in marriage, she notes, she gained an appreciation for the 5K by virtue of its association to Lasse Viren, the Finnish middle-distance phenomenon who won gold medals at 5K and 10K during the 1972 and 1976 Olympics - and did so in a style so spectacular as to spark rumors of blood-doping.
But there are more practical reasons for her appreciation of the 5K. While a mile might be a shorter race to finish, it tends to be run at a much faster speed. The 5K is a step up in distance, but its slower pace can be more accommodating for beginners. It is a common distance for entry-level runners to undertake - more forgiving to the body than a marathon, yet ambitious enough to provide finishers with a substantial sense of accomplishment.
Jessica Anderson concurs. She and her husband own the Fleet Feet franchise, located at 8440 Old Sauk Rd. She cites her own first 5K, a food-pantry benefit in La Crosse as an example. Crossing the finish line, she recalls, "I thought, 'Wow, I ran three miles.'"
That may be a fraction of the mar-athon distances required to impress jaded endurance veterans. But many runners who have logged countless thousands of miles over the years got their start running more modest distances. If they've forgotten the thrill of finishing their first 5K, perhaps it's because all the miles since have dulled their memory of it, or shaken it loose altogether.
There are a variety of local training options and programs for people seeking guidance in preparing to enter their first footrace. Personal trainers, endurance coaches, health clubs and distance-running retailers such as Movin' Shoes offer resources ranging from formal to informal.
The local Fleet Feet franchise also offers spring and fall marathon training programs and fun runs, and a summer training program in preparation for the Capitol Mile. But the No Boundaries National Training Program - a collaboration between the national Fleet Feet Sports chain and New Balance shoes - may be the best-branded program focused on beginning runners.
The No Boundaries curriculum includes two coached training sessions per week - one at 6 p.m. Wednesdays, the other at 7:30 a.m. Saturdays - with coaches including USA Triathlon-certified coach Ryan Griessmeyer, of local trainers Race Day Events. Discussions will cover topics ranging from injury prevention and nutrition to footwear and how to balance training with family and other obligations.
The $75 registration fee includes a 12-week training schedule, with seminars, a weekly email packed with tips and advice, and plenty of swag (moisture-wicking No Boundaries running T-shirt and hat, sack-pack, water bottle). No Boundaries participants will also enjoy email and phone access to coaches between seminars and group runs, and will be encouraged to cross-train in other sports as a complement to the running program.
Anderson says early in-quiries reflect the broad appeal of an entry-level 5K training program. "I've had a few people who have never run before, and people who are currently walking but want to start running," she notes. So far, she adds, the age range extends from about 30-65, and most of the interest has been coming from women.
The goal for all participants will be to finish the Fleet Feet Sports Diva Dash 5K, a benefit for Girls on the Run of Dane County, scheduled for July 13 in Middleton.
There is, of course, an element of enlightened self-interest in this for the local Fleet Feet Sports franchise. "Honestly, we hope to gain new customers," Anderson acknowledges. But she is also looking forward to seeing the participants rewarded with the same payoff she enjoyed when she finished her first 5K. The sense of accomplishment that accompanies the realization, "Wow, I ran three miles."
The first steps to 5K
Fleet Feet Madison
8440 Old Sauk Rd.