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Step by Step: Employee Tackles Training for First Race

May 12, 2014

On the morning of July 4, rain or shine, people lining the streets of Atlanta’s Peachtree Road Race will have the opportunity to see Jimmy Clanton, Jr., competing for the first time. No one is more excited than Clanton, manager of digital properties for the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), who said running the famed 10k course is something he’s wanted to do since he moved to Atlanta in 1986.

Jimmy Clanton, Jr., is training to meet a goal he's had for nearly 30 years: running Atlanta's Peachtree Road Race.

“There was just always some reason for me not to do it. So at age 58, I’ll finally get around to doing it,” he said.

Although he was an active high school athlete, Clanton would hardly have called himself an avid runner or walker when he registered for the race in March. He knew trying to go 6.2 miles in Atlanta’s thick July heat would be a challenge. But it was a challenge he wanted to meet.

“I just wanted to finish it. That was my initial thought. If I had to walk or crawl, I just wanted to finish,” he said.

To get to that finish line, Clanton started training. He searched for 10k training programs on Google, found one he liked and started taking daily walks. But the gradual pace of training didn’t come easily. In his first couple of weeks, Clanton said he pushed himself too hard.

“It was discouraging. It seemed like I just couldn’t get it right,” he said. “But you just have to get back into it.”

Susanne Koch, DPH’s worksite wellness coordinator, said that’s a lesson many new exercisers learn off the bat – and what causes most people to fall off the exercise wagon. The key is setting a series of smaller, more achievable goals.

“Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to make a lot of changes at once,” she said. “It’s a step-by-step process. Just start by moving more and committing to your plan.”

Fitness experts recommend that new exercisers or those in training start out at an easy level and gradually work up to longer, more intense workouts, a concept called gradual progressive overload. Koch said adding about 10 percent to your workout each week is the best way to gradually build your endurance and meet a goal, like a longer distance or a faster pace.

Clanton started finding ways to push himself to go a little farther every day, working in physical activity whenever and however he could. Rather than get off his bus at the stop closest to 2 Peachtree each morning, he exits at the State Capitol and takes a longer route, aiming to walk three miles before getting to the office.

Clanton also takes a 3-mile walk three days each week during his lunch hour, taking advantage of DPH’s physical activity policy. He jogs to get a cup of coffee or around the park near his house. On other days, Clanton will lift weights or do jumping jacks, lunges and other exercises while watching his favorite television shows at home.

“Whenever I can fit something like that in, I do it,” he said. “To me, it’s an opportunity to exercise and grow your confidence.”

Clanton said one of the biggest helps in his training is support, both technical and personal. He uses a mobile app called My Tracks to keep tabs on his workouts and how far he goes each day. His wife, Edwina, is also tracking her own workouts on the app, and they share their daily progress with each other.

“I make sure she meets her goals, and she makes sure I meet mine,” Clanton said.

He also takes a day of complete rest, which Koch said is a vital part of any exercise routine.

“Your body needs time to recover in order to get the full benefits of your workout,” she said.

With two months to go until the Peachtree Road Race, Clanton said he already notices improvements in his fitness, like being able to walk and jog faster and farther than when he started. He no longer wants to just finish the race; Clanton said his current goal is to run 80 percent of the route and finish at a competitive time.

But he said starting by making those incremental goals was important.

“If I’d started off saying I’m going to run the whole thing, I would never have signed up,” he said. “Once you make a small goal, you reach that goal, and then you fix your sights on something higher.”

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