Group Training



Can 53 couch potatoes training together for eight weeks run a four-mile race at the Cooper Young Festival in September?

Or by the end of August will some of them be dropping like flies in the heat and unable or unwilling to make it to the starting line on race day? At least that's what I'm betting the woman who trains them, Star Ritchey, who says group training, positive thinking, and incremental goals will get them all there.

The "Couch to 4 Miler" is an eight-week conditioning program promoted by inbalance Fitness that culminates in the race on September 18th at the Cooper-Young Festival.

"I started it so it would be conducive for true nonrunners," says Ritchey, 35, a personal trainer who ran her first half-marathon seven years ago. There are 43 women and 10 men in the class, ranging in age from 19 to 58 years old.

The first week they ran a total of only eight minutes in one-minute intervals, with one minute of walking in between, during each workout. By week four they were up to 24 minutes of running up to 5 minutes at a time, with two-minute walking intervals. Each day the group goes down on the walking interval and up on the running interval. By the end of week five there will be no more breaks and the run will last 20 minutes. By week eight the goal is a 40-minute run.

"I have not had anyone drop out," said Ritchey. "This is a very devoted group. They are hooked now. I canceled once last week because of a storm and they were so disappointed that I have to do a makeup run."

She suggests participants come to three or more training runs a week. The weekday runs are in Midtown, and the Saturday run is along the river. A new class will begin after the 4-miler.

Ritchey said the "couch" starting point is no exaggeration.

"I had people who in the first 60 seconds I talked them through every second. I will not say people didn't struggle, but now they look back and say that 60 seconds is doable. It's mind over matter."

For the 4-miler, the group will start together. She suggests everyone eat something like a banana and toast an hour or 30 minutes before running, then eat more within an hour of completing the run to replenish muscles.

"In training runs everybody has a different pace. About five of them run ahead. I usually stay mid-pack to back. I give the front runners drills to do to work on speed. Their goal is to finish in 40 minutes. The mid-pack goal is 45 to 55 minutes. Some will be a little over an hour. If you feel like you have to stop and walk, who cares? It's about finishing."

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