Week 3: Novice runners continue to train at the YMCA for April's Pear Blossom race

Halfway into the six-week Ashland Family YMCA's Sofa to 5K fitness class program, people continue to join the group of non-athletes preparing for the Pear Blossom run in April.

Now, 17 participants gather at the YMCA at 6:45 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and turn themselves physically and mentally over to trainers Chip Layton and Sloan Dorr.

"Don't let your mind tell you what you can do," called out Dorr, as she encouraged the group while they were doing stadium loops in between their 2.7-mile run Thursday morning. "You will regret it at the 5K if you don't work hard now."

Kim Levy, 26, of Ashland already has seen progress since the first day of class. She has experience running the Pear Blossom's 10-mile race, but not comfortably.

"I have never trained property. So I wanted to join a group with instructors who know what they are doing and steadily train six weeks for a shorter race," she said. "It's not good for my body to do a 10-mile if I'm not prepared."

With the YMCA group, she stays in front of the pack during most of the hourlong sessions.

"My goal is to not feel like I'm going to die at the end of the race like I do when I do the 10-mile," she said. "And I'm hoping to run a 13-minute mile or less, which is not very fast, but for me, that's good."

She calls herself "a very slow jogger" and laughs that walkers pass her.

Levy has another goal: She is getting married March 24 and she wants to feel healthy for her big day. "I'm starting a new life," she said.

The piano teacher wakes up early to join the YMCA group. "It's really great to do a program where you get out there with lots of supportive people," she said. "I'm lucky to live in a town that offers this."

Adding stadium loops — that is, running up and down the bleachers at the Southern Oregon University's football stadium — caused most of the group to be winded. Some held their sides without complaint.

Chip Layton, the YMCA's Health & Wellness director who conceived the Sofa to 5K fitness class to encourage people to get in better shape for the spring run and beyond, explained "a side ache is a breathing issue."

He advised them to slow to a fast walk and raise their hands above their head. Then, breathe from their belly, not their chest, to relax the diaphragm.

A few others experienced spasms in their legs and calves. They joked they were Elvis Presley or jitterbuggers.

This, too, is an issue for people who are new to running, said Layton. He recommended doing one of their warm-up static stretches or lying down for a "partner stretch," where someone helps hold your legs up, to lengthen and relax the muscles.

After the practice, Layton reminded everyone to hydrate. "Water intake is huge," he said.

If they feel tight and sore at work, he suggested they do basic stretching techniques to stay limber.

A good stretch in the office is to bring arms overhead and bend to one side then the other, then forward to relax the back. Follow that with a quad stretch by holding onto a sturdy bar, grasping one ankle and pulling a heel up and back. Hold, then switch legs.

As Levy was chugging up Ashland Street on her way back to the YMCA, she pointed to ornamental plum trees with white and pink blossoms and said how pretty they were. She then said how much she appreciated the breeze.

"It's wonderful to run outside instead of on the treadmill," she said.

Because of her three weeks of practicing, she also has a better idea of distances.

"I know where one mile is and where three miles are," she said. "That's helpful because I know roughly how long it takes me to reach those landmarks, which I never did before."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@dailytidings.com.