One 5K at a Time

December 5, 2013

Editor’s note: Michael Rogers, an operations analyst in the Office of Health Indicators and Planning at the Georgia Department of Public Health, wanted to start living a healthier lifestyle. So the 60-year-old and his wife, Marian, 62, decided to participate in a 5K race every month for one full year. In the following story, Rogers describes how he made the choice to simply get off the couch and get moving.

Michael Rogers and his wife, Marian, walked the Holcomb Bridge Hustle 5K in support of Holcomb Bridge Middle School in less than an hour.

As I sat in my Weight Watchers meeting listening to another member talk about completing a 5K race, one thought came to me: “I can do that.”

In my younger, healthier days, I used regularly hike up to 10 miles in a single day. Based on my calculations, 5 kilometers was only 3.1 miles. I knew I could finish a 5K race.

Getting started was the key; I knew it had to happen one step at a time. I wanted to condition and get in better shape, so I started walking everywhere. I didn’t worry about distance at first; the goal was just to walk for at least 30 minutes a day in my neighborhood and at work during my lunch hour. After a few weeks, I realized I could cover 1.5 miles in 30 minutes.

When I started searching for a 5K race in the Atlanta area, I discovered it might be more challenging than I thought.

“Atlanta has big hills,” a coworker reminded me.

But a solution arrived in June when I started making plans to travel back to my hometown, Urbana, Ill. The town was having a Freedom Celebration for the Fourth of July featuring a parade, fireworks and a 5K. I grew up on the streets along the race route and could visualize each step I would be taking. Plus, central Illinois is often referred to as “flat as a pancake.” Early in the morning, some shade, along familiar streets and “no heart attack hills” – this would be my first race.

On the day of the 5K, I arrived early and registered. I felt relaxed as the race started between the Assembly Hall and Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus. About 2,000 runners and walkers lined up to start the race. I felt like I might be trampled before I even crossed the starting line. I actually jogged the first 10 yards before I realized that I needed to pace myself and walk; after all, I was doing this for myself.

Even though I knew the streets like the back of my hand, they seemed much longer than when I walked through the neighborhood more than 30 years ago. As the race went on, I moved to the back of the pack as faster runners passed me. But I kept my pace. I knew that I could do it. After some of the runners had finished the race, they came back to cheer for those of us still running or walking to keep going. “You are exercising!,” they cheered. I was surprised but still appreciated their encouragement. I finished the race in 55:46 minutes.

Upon returning home, I shared my excitement of completing the race with my wife, Marian, and announced that I thought it would not be too hard to complete a 5K each month of the next year. She agreed to join me.

The Kaiser Permanente Corporate Challenge in September was our first race. On a hot and muggy night, we joined 16,000 enthusiastic runners and walkers at the starting line at Turner Field. The course through downtown Atlanta reminded me that the city really does have big hills. In fact, I was not sure if I would finish the course. Marian and I learned that we needed to be much more selective and pace ourselves to prepare for the big events.

October was the Run for Shelter along the Big Creek Greenway in Forsyth County, which we finished in 61 minutes. Marian came in as the first and only person in her age group. I came in third for my age group. Thankfully, there were not any more people in our age groups.

In November, we joined the Holcomb Bridge Hustle to benefit Holcomb Bridge Middle School. I finished the race in 54:46, one minute shorter than my time in the Fourth of July race in Illinois. I knew I must be getting in better shape.

Our next race will be the Fast, Fun Phidippides 5K in Atlanta’s Ansley Park neighborhood on Dec.14, and we hope to settle on our January event soon. We’re already looking forward to next year. Each event is always so special and rewarding. Our goal is simply to finish the race at our pace and hopefully in front of someone, anyone.

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