Local runners participate in ETSU Physical Therapy Department's 6th Annual 5K Run/Walk at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. (Jennifer Sprouse/ Johnson City Press)
With programs like the Couch-to-5K and the local variety of run/walk events in the region, the sport of running has been evolving to where everyone — young and old — yearn to be part of the action.
An avid runner of 35 years and owner of Fleet Feet Sports in Kingsport, Phil Horner said running events, especially 5Ks, are popping up not just on the weekends, but also during the week.
“You can probably find two or three 5Ks just about every weekend right now through the spring and the summertime. That’s up significantly over the past few years where maybe just one a weekend was the norm. You’re seeing 5Ks on Wednesday evenings, you seeing them on Friday nights,” Horner said.
He said at his business they have a lot of beginner running programs that cater to people of all ages and said a lot of people in their 30s, 40s, and even early 50s have steadily been getting involved with the various road races in the area.
Horner said this age range of runners, some even previous athletes, have joined the sport to get active again after raising kids and working full-time for many years. He said an even bigger change in running events over the years has been the number of participants who are content on just beating their own personal times while racing, rather than trying to compete with the competitive group of runners.
“The growth segment is not in the 16-minute finishing. It’s not in the 17-minute, the 18-minute finishing,” Horner said. “The biggest growth segment for 5Ks is probably in the upper 20s to low 30s. The days of having to run a 4-minute mile ... just isn’t what it used to be.”
He said while it used to be somewhat taboo to walk during a race, walkers are now widely accepted at area road races.
“It’s actually one of the best ways to train and even compete in an event today,” Horner said.
On Saturday, one of the many scheduled road races for spring got under way at 8 a.m., as students in East Tennessee State University’s physical therapy department held their 6th Annual 5K Run/Walk at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Mountain Home.
Race director and third year ETSU physical therapy student Stephanie Roane said the event was started by the the PT Class of 2008 as part of a class project.
“It’s a health and wellness class that the third years take in the summer and they were asked to do a community involved project,” Roane said. “(The) Class of 2008 decided they wanted to do a 5K event and the faculty kind of thought they were crazy because at the time it wasn’t as popular.”
She said the run/walk event took off and has since become a tradition the third-year students in the department take on each year.
Roane said the race cost participants $20 during pre-registration and $25 for regular race day registration, but said all proceeds would benefit the Fit Kids Program.
“It’s a local charity. It’s actually run by one of the faculty members at ETSU,” she said. “It’s a program that really advocates health and wellness in school-age children and it’s all to benefit ... healthy living and really trying to get that started at a young age.”
Roane said Saturday’s event, which the department ran with the help from Fleet Feet Sports, had a total of 114 runners signed up to participate in the event as of Friday night, but said approximately 50 more runners were anticipated to show up Saturday.
Roane said she started running in races about five years ago and has run in at least a 100 races so far, with most of them coinciding with festival events.
Roane said over the years race events became more accessible and said “it’s almost like you kind of go out on a whim ... if you feel like running. You just look it up and there’s a race available.”
Also working at Fleet Feet Sports, she said the business hosts and adds running events each year, with mostly all races benefiting a philanthropy or cause.
“They’ve definitely grown in the last five years that I’ve been in the area,” Roane said. “It’s the perfect distance. It’s 3.1 (miles). It’s a great distance to make you feel like you’ve really gone out and had a good workout. You can also try to run them competitively without putting too much damage on your body. I like to call them ‘fun runs’ because it’s really just the perfect distance and doesn’t take too much of your morning.”
She said the community involvement has also expanded with race popularity.
“It is a community. You do get to know people and you see the same people at the races and you know that you’re benefitting somebody,” Roane said. “As much as the 5Ks are becoming popular and it does seem like it’s saturated, always get out there and do something for your community. They’re always usually for a good cause and it’s just always better to do something rather than nothing.”
Jason Lewis of Jonesborough, who is training for an Ironman race, won the ETSU PT 5K Saturday morning, finishing the race with a time of 17:46.