Week 4: Novice runners continue to train at the YMCA for April's Pear Blossom race

On Tuesday, the nonathletes enrolled in the Ashland YMCA's Sofa to 5K fitness class started their pre-sunrise jog in the rain. Again.

So far the group, which has committed to twice-weekly practices for six weeks, has endured snow, cold, rain, fog and once, 50-degree temperatures.

But they're determined not to quit. They are pushing themselves to reach individual goals as well as the group's goal to cross the finish line of the Pear Blossom 5K on April 14. Most hope to jog the distance, without having to drop their gait and settle for walking.

Today, the leaders in the group ran an 11-minute mile. Others took 50 minutes, almost the entire class time, to travel 31/2; miles on a flat course.

Brie Wilson is a 27-year-old mother of two who is surprised to find herself at the front of the pack. She attributes her progress to her determination "not to compete but to complete" and the encouragement she has received from trainers Chip Layton and Sloan Dorr and the others in the group.

"It's so great to have the support of the coaches and the team," she says, breathing hard on the steps to the entrance of the YMCA after her jog. "One of my goals is I want to push back the negative talk, which could be a skill I could use to encourage me for the rest of my life."

The White City resident, who confesses she never exercised or played sports, leaves her home before 6 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays to join the class. Most days, she's sporting a bright yellow T-shirt made of quick-drying polyester. The back of her Tech shirt has the motto: "Rain. Snow. Sleet. Wind. Brave the Run."

"The shirt inspires me," says Wilson. "We have proven this. The first day when it snowed, I said, 'Yes!' It really pumped me up. Today, it rained and we charged right through the puddles. It's fun to let our kid out."

When 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, tells the group at the beginning of the class the route and its distance, Wilson is the first to punch her fist into the air, shout "Let's do this!" then clap. When jogging, she throws her arms into the air, forming a V for victory, followed by a hearty "All right!"

She explains her motivation: "It's hard when you reach your tired point and your brain is saying, 'You can't, you have a side ache, your legs hurt.' But you have to push past that and encourage each other. Everyone has done that for me."

She knows she'll be hearing more cheers along the Pear Blossom course. "People from my work, my church, my children and my family will be there to support me," says Wilson, who works at the front desk at the Ashland Surgery Center, where a nurse told her about the class and sponsored her for the $45 fee. "She encouraged me and I totally jumped on board. It's a life-changer for me. I can do this."

The first week, she had sore muscles between her shoulders because she was tensing up. Trainer Dorr suggested she hold her thumb to her index finger — "like holding a potato chip" Wilson explains — while running to relax those muscles.

On this day, trainer Layton was rallying the participants in the front and the back of the pack. "You're keeping your own pace," he says. "That's good."

For others considering conquering the Pear Blossom's race, he says: "Time is getting short. Even though it's a run-walk 5K, the better shape you're in, the more fun it will be come race day. It's time to get off the couch and start running."

Adds Wilson, expressing a hint of incredulity: "I admired people who run. I see them out there and I've always thought, 'How do you do that?' Now I'm one of them and it feels great."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 551-776-4465 or jeastman@dailytidings.com.