Get started!

I’m too out of shape to run. I’ll start after I lose some weight…

Sound familiar?

Mike Leavitt (bib #113 in photo) felt this way for quite some time. He was an athlete in his younger days but work, family and life in general had taken its toll.

At 38 years of age, he felt scared and disgusted at how out of shape he was. And when a friend suggested joining a running program, he thought it was out of the question.

“I’ve never been a runner per se. With flat feet, bad knees and a larger frame, I’m not really built for speed. In addition, my energy level was really low. I wasn’t motivated at all. Never thought I could do it!” he says.

But his friend was persistent and in July 2015 Mike and two of his buddies arrived at Train Yard Gym & Fitness in Enola for Day 1 of a nine-week Couch to 5K program. As the title indicates, the program is designed for people whose feet are more likely to be propped on a couch than inside a pair of running shoes. It starts with intervals of 60 seconds of running followed by 90 seconds of walking and slowly builds up to longer periods of running until participants are able to run a full 5K (3.1 miles) at the end of the program.

To a person who is overweight and inactive, even 60 seconds of running may sound daunting—and 3.1 miles may seem like a pipe dream! But here’s what Mike says he experienced: “It hurt at first—not going to lie about that—however I kept going and it was a great decision. I lost about 15 pounds during the training process. Not only did I lose weight, but also my knees and ankles felt so much better and my energy level increased dramatically.”

Couch to 5K participants train three times a week to build up their endurance and also learn other essential information about preparing for a 5K:

  • You need to test which foods fuel your running best and how much time you need to digest them. Most people do well with a light carbohydrate-based snack, such as a banana, granola bar, cereal or a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich about 60 minutes before a run. It’s important to experiment with the timing and content of your pre-run fuel, because what works for someone else may not work for you.
  • Staying hydrated will improve your performance and comfort while running. Muscles are 75% water and they need to be topped off! When training or racing for less than 60 minutes, sports drinks that provide extra electrolytes aren’t necessary. A nice rule of thumb is to try to drink half your weight in ounces of water a day to maintain proper hydration. For example, you should drink 75 ounces of water daily if you weigh 150 pounds.
  • The right clothing is essential. Your body temperature will quickly rise when you run. During winter, you should plan on dressing as if the temperature is 20 degrees warmer than it actually is or dressing in layers that you can remove as you warm up. In warmer weather, you will be most comfortable in sweat-wicking fabrics made specifically for exercise. It’s also important that the seams of your clothing don’t rub or chafe you while you run.
  • It’s smart to be fitted for running shoes by a professional rather than just taking advantage of that first big department-store sale or picking the pair with the nicest colors. There are many different running shoe designs and choosing one that isn’t built for your running patterns can cause problems. For example, some people tend to over-pronate (roll their foot inward after striking the ground) and they should choose a shoe with extra firmness in the inside portion of the sole to correct for this. Lightweight minimalist shoes may feel great, but they may not be appropriate for the amount of miles or type of terrain on which you will be running. A knowledgeable professional at a running store can educate you and help you make the right choice.
  • Staying motivated can be a challenge, but you can set yourself for success by having a support system and a goal. Meeting with a friend or an organized group to go for runs can help you to stay on track because if you skip a session, you’re letting down someone other than just yourself. As Mike notes, “The support I received from my running partners was crucial!” Another good idea involves picking a specific race to run; doing so imposes a deadline on your training that will increase your sense of urgency to prepare.

Just nine short weeks after venturing into the world of running, Mike completed the Diakon Outdoor Adventure Challenge 5K Trail Run.

And that last step over the finish line represented so much more than just the end of the race. It was the culmination of a challenge in which he had made the decision to stop accepting the status quo, battled back his doubts, pushed his limits and earned the victory!

Mike’s advice for someone who thinks he or she is too overweight or out of shape to even begin is to “quit making excuses.” It’s okay to start slow and build up, but you have to start! You can talk about it or you can do it—and that goes for a lot of things. Not everyone is a runner. I get that, but everyone needs to be healthy. With the support I received from my friends and the Train Yard, I did it!”

About the author:
Maggie Wonsick is a runner, personal trainer, and co-owner of Train Yard Gym & Fitness in Enola, Pa. For information on her Couch to 5K program beginning July 16, 2016, go to or contact Maggie at 717-728-1902 or You can also register for the Diakon Outdoor Adventure Challenge here!

Because we review comments, they do not appear immediately. Please do not submit each comment more than once. Please review our comment policy.