We made it to March! Or, to put it in running terms for those of us readying for spring races, we’re really, truly getting there. We can see the light at the end of the (snowy, icy) tunnel.

I’m now in my 11th week of marathon training — more than half way there, woot!! — and I’m guessing those of you with April and May races on your calendars are equally as excited to be as far along as you are in your own training, whatever the distance may be. For some of you, the journey toward race day is made all the sweeter because of the experience you’ve had training for the event with friends.

Members of one Michigan running group — the Priority Health Run Camp offered through Gazelle Sports Grand Rapids — have been helping motivate one another throughout the past few months and are eagerly anticipating race day. This training program is for runners training for the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon / 5k and the Fifth Third Riverbank — or any other spring race. MRG recently checked in with three members of the Run Camp to hear their running stories and get some training updates.

As participant Alicia Haven explains it, “I wanted to be a part of run camp because these people are my family. I couldn’t imagine running with anyone else at this point.” Katie Olson, Run Camp participant since summer 2011, agrees: “It is the people and friends I have made that keeps bringing me back. Everyone is very encouraging, even outside of the run camp atmosphere. The run camp has become a running family that keeps growing year after year.”

Here’s more from Alicia Haven, Katie Olson and Emma Baranowski:

Alicia Haven
Alicia Haven

Gazelle Girl runner: Alicia Haven
Race she’s training for: 5K (she’s also a leader for the half marathon team)
Running start: 2009-10, “to get in better shape and lose a bit of weight.”

I had always dreaded running in school and avoided it at all costs, so it was a rather odd thing for me to pick up — and in the winter nonetheless. I ran slowly (slow: 11:30/mile), but quickly it became a competition against myself. I would start out and run to the next light post or street to beat my distance slightly from the previous run. After several weeks I was able to run a 5K uninterrupted. This seemed like such a huge feat! I had never ran that far in my life, let alone enjoyed it. In 2010 the 10K made its debut to the Fifth Third Riverbank Run lineup, and after some careful calculations I figured with my weekly mileage additions I would be able to get up to a 10K a week or so before race day. I trained solely by myself — I was far too embarrassed to run with a group or anyone I knew. I was positive that ‘real runners’ were as fast as gazelles and I’d never be able to keep up. I ran that 10K in 2010 and it was one of the best experiences to date. My parents, sister, and nieces all came out on the course to watch me. Rounding one of the last corners stood a group of Marines who were also cheering us on. I crossed the finish line and instantly wondered what race I could run next. The coming summer I stumbled upon Gazelle Sports training programs for triathlons; a friend had talked me into a sprint distance tri, and I never turned back. I quickly found out that ‘real runners’ come in all shapes, sizes, and paces. I have made friends from the training group who have become more like family to me than some of my own family members!

Walking and running through cancer: I was sidelined for the better part of 2011 after receiving a stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis in March. After surgery to completely remove my large intestine, I completed 12 rounds of chemotherapy, every other week for 6 months. I received two of my chemo drugs while at the hospital on a Monday morning and then took a pump home that administered the third drug continuously through Wednesday. Being the hard-headed person I am, I continued a run/walk regimen for the first third of my chemo rounds; eventually even walking one mile became nearly impossible. After I finished chemo, I had one more surgery and then proclaimed myself ‘humpty-dumpty put back together again!’ Running is far different now with only half of a digestive system; it’s more about simply being out in the open air with my friends. I notice the birds chirping or the fall leaves changing colors more than what my pace is. I’m one of the lucky ones; I was able to come out on the other side of a battle with cancer to not only live, but to be able to continue with the sport I absolutely love. It’s not an easy ride, but I never asked for easy. I just asked for possible.

Team Leader: I am helping team lead for the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon, however due to my extreme iron deficiency anemia I require iron infusions about every 8-9 months. Running gets difficult leading up to the infusion, as well as for a few weeks following the infusion. It just so happens that I will need an infusion right around the time of the half marathon. I plan to run the 5K and go back out on the course to cheer on my friends!

Training Update: Training has been going well. We have a lot of new members in our pace group this year who will be completing their first half marathon or 25K. We are getting to the point of training when we are seeing a ton of personal records, and it is so fun to watch the participants not only meet but crush their goals! We’ve struggled the most with traversing the unplowed roads. Traction can be non-existent which leads to a tough run. However, I know it will benefit everyone come race day. Eventually we’ll hit dry pavement and just fly!

Mitten State Running: I love running in Michigan because there are so many beautiful places to see that I might not otherwise be able to experience if it weren’t for running out on the trails. I am able to witness the change of all seasons and really soak in the beauty that surrounds us. Sure it may be tough sometimes, but I wouldn’t change it for the world!

Katie Olson
Katie Olson

Gazelle Girl runner: Katie Olson
Races she’s training for: Gazelle half marathon and Fifth Third River Bank 25K
Running start: 2010 (“I started walking fall 2009, and in 2010 ran 5Ks for the T-shirts.”)

In the Spring of 2011 I watched the Kalamazoo half and full marathon runners run by me as I prepared for another 5K with my mom. When those people ran by I told her, “I’m going to do that!” and she thought I was crazy. So I signed up for Gazelle half/full training group and so began an amazing journey. Ran my first Grand Rapids half in 2011, two weeks after I married, cause you know, I had time. Then I signed up to be a team leader (spring 2012) for what would have been my first 25K, ended up injured and learning a lot about myself and helping others achieve their goals. Got back on the running wagon, again as a team leader, for fall when I did Grand Rapids half, then five days later the Great Turtle half. I love being a team leader and I love getting my friends to that finish line, sometimes behind them but we all get there! I finally got to run my first 25K spring 2013. Since 2011, I have done seven half marathons and the one 25K, as I have now switched to the race bling from the t-shirts.

Training Update: Run camp so far this year has been cold and snowy, however last year was worse in those areas. It also has been the largest group of runners since I have been with the group, which is just amazing! The toughest part is getting out of bed on Saturday mornings because it is so cold, but I and others feel so rewarded when we finish our long runs, that it is worth it. The most memorable moment of any run camp is the day we lost a fellow runner. The running community came together to support not only each other, but her family and community as well. Another memorable moment has been the frost on everyone’s faces on a few different long runs in the winter. Those cold runs are some of the most fun.
Mitten State Running: I love Michigan as a whole, but what I like running about running in Michigan is the scenery. It is a beautiful state and there are some amazing things to see. I have run on some amazing trails, where you can see trees, houses, animals, roads that you may not know where they lead, and others getting out there by running, walking, or riding their bikes. The Mackinaw Island Great Turtle Run has some amazing views that encompass what you may see all over the state, which is the many lakes we have … Michigan is an amazing place to grow up and run in.

Emma Baranowski
Emma Baranowski

Gazelle Girl runner: Emma Baranowski
Race she’s training for: Half marathon
Running start: 2012 (“On ‘Cyber Monday’ in 2012 I signed up to do the Warrior Dash with a bunch of friends.”)

Going Galloway: The following spring (after the Warrior Dash) I tried the Couch to 5K app on my phone and made it three sessions before I quit. I really did not want to look like an idiot “trying” to run at the Warrior Dash, so after receiving some advice from a friend, I joined the Gazelle summer running group. I won’t lie – it was a STRUGGLE at first. I had a hard time even running 3 minutes. When the plan called for run 8 minutes, walk 3 I was ELATED when I made it 8 minutes running. I was not able to do that 3 times, so that was a bit of discouragement. Another friend of mine suggested the Galloway method and that worked for me! As the year went on, I did a 10K (I did 3 minute run, 2 minute walk), the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon and the Riverbank 25K (both of those races were at 60 second run, 30 second walk). Even to this day I still do run walk intervals for my runs/races. I just had to find what worked for me. Here is a video of me sharing my story with one of the 5K groups this past summer: https://www.youtube.com/embed/F2xjK-NZTFw

The Power of Run Camp: I tried to run “on my own” before and it didn’t work. I have found that being a part of Run Camp has many benefits: the training runs are supported; there is already a training plan and route in place; being around others encourages me to do more/push myself harder than I would when I am on my own; I have received a LOT of support from them and I have a lot of fun!

Training Update: So far Run Camp is great! I can tell you there have been MANY times that I did not want to get out in the cold and run, but I did. I wanted to be accountable to my group. Besides, they make it fun and it is much more enjoyable than a “dreadmill.” For me, the toughest part has been my own mind. Running in the snow is a whole different ballgame. I have found it to be more difficult since you have different elements. In my mind I know I can and should be running faster than I have been in the snow, and I beat myself up because I am running a lot slower. I don’t take in consideration the “elements” that factor into my run. This is something that I need to work on.

Mitten State Running: If you look around you, I mean REALLY look at your surroundings, you can see the beauty that Michigan has to offer. Even on a recent Saturday (when there was -16 wind chill), we were running on the White Pine Trail in Rockford. It was cold and blizzard-like. It got to a point where everything died down for a minute and the sun came out and was shining off all of the snow and ice. It really was a beautiful sight. If I was inside I would have missed that moment. Being an outdoor runner has allowed me to see the little nuggets of beauty that are out there.

How is your spring race training going so far? Are you running with a training group or club? 

How does running with others keep you motivated?

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