Area runner Tracey Glover operates with a simple phrase when helping train people interested in running or becoming better runners during a Couch to 5K.

"My standpoint is whenever someone comes up to me is, 'You're the boss,'" said Glover, who will help facilitate a Couch to 5K program with the Aiken Running Club for this year's Run United. "You don't know what you have until you try it," he said. "The way that we approach it, we start with just walking and then we gradually will start jogging."

The nine-week AEC Couch to RUN UNITED 5K will be held before the 2018 Run United race, which will be held on April 28 in downtown Aiken.

Run United, presented by Aiken Electric Cooperative Touchstone Energy, includes a half-marathon, 5K and kid's fun run. Proceeds benefit United Way of Aiken County.

A kickoff meeting for the Couch to 5K will take place at 6-7:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at Aiken Electric Cooperative, 2790 Wagener Road, Aiken.

The program

Couch to 5K is "really about making running accessible," said Karen Alasin, Aiken Running Club president.

"So many people go out and they decide they’re going to run or run a race or lose weight or get healthy or whatever, and they go out to the track and try to run as fast as they can, get winded, and say, 'I can't do this,'" Alasin said. "The whole design is that you can start really with no background."

Both Alasin and Glover say that starts with a lot of walking at first with a little running mixed in. That means a person may start running 30 seconds and then walk two minutes.

"It's really about making it over the course of eight to 10 to 12 weeks, depending on the program you choose," Alasin added. "It's about starting with a little running and a lot of walking and increasing the running intervals and decreasing the walking intervals to what's comfortable to that individual."

She reminded it's also about dispelling the idea that a runner in a 5K – which equals around 3.1 miles – must run the entire race.

"There’s actually no rule in any of these races that you have to run the whole thing," the running club president said. "It’s OK to walk, and it’s OK to build up slowly."

Slow, progressive and personalized are all ways Glover describes the Couch to 5K in Aiken, as it features people from all skill levels.

During the program, the group typically meets at 6 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays and 8 a.m. Saturday at the H. Odell Weeks Activity Center on Whiskey Road, said Thomas Cowlam, with the running club.

The group will start with a dynamic warmup, and there will be mentors consisting of running club members and past program graduates to help participants along. It is generally around a 30 minute workout.

'Just give it a shot'

The kickoff meeting is a great place to get a better grip on the program, but Glover said he thinks anyone interested should come out and give it a try.

"I think people should just give it a shot; I’m not one to push it, I think, when people get out there," he said. "There are a lot of laughs, and there’s usually some celebrations at the end."

The members of the Aiken Running Club remember the first time they ran in a 5K - or even started running for that matter. They say if they had an opportunity for a do-over, they would have participated in a program before embarking on the activity.

"I definitely remember my first 5k, and I was very scared of it," Glover said, "and I really wish I would have joined a program like this because it would have made it a lot more digestible." 

Cowlam and Alasin also said they both trained alone when they started running. 

Alasin said she would only run at 4 am. in her neighborhood from one driveway to another because she was too embarrassed. But what she said she's learned in the past seven years she's been running is "even though we think someone is judging us, no one is."

"It’s really about making yourself healthier," she said. "We don’t judge people for going back to school, we applaud them. This is the same thing. That's all people are noticing, that you’re getting out there and improving yourself — that’s all it is."

Cowlam pointed out there is accountability and support with a group, as well.

Keyatta Priester, manager with Community Development at Aiken Electric Cooperative, Inc., said the company is "excited to partner with the Aiken Running club, and present AEC Couch to RUN UNITED 5K."

Priester said, "taking on the challenge of AEC Couch to RUN UNITED 5K can help boost your confidence and self-belief, as you prove to yourself that you can set yourself a target and achieve a goal. I am accepting the challenge myself along with my 9-year-old son Noah and my 10-year-old niece, Hannah. We plan to participate as a family."

The Aiken Running Club advises people to check with their doctor before any exercise program.

They also advise runners to dress appropriately and go to a running store to be fit for running shoes. Proper running shoes will reduce risk of injury, Alasin said. She recommends Strictly Running in Columbia and Fleet Feet Sports in Augusta for those still looking for shoes. 

A flat $50 fee will cover the program, entry into the Aiken Running Club and entry fee for the Run United 5K race, according to organizers. Anyone under the age of 18 must have parental consent.

For more information on the Aiken Running Club and/or the AEC Couch to RUN UNITED 5K visit their Facebook page and runningaiken.org.

Registration for Run United is now open. For complete information including registration and costs, visit www.aikenco-op.org/RunUnited/.

Christina Cleveland is the features writer at the Aiken Standard.

Christina Cleveland is a reporter with the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since October 2015. A native of Seneca, South Carolina, she holds a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.