Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No Boundaries running program, Carrboro, North Carolina

From Heather Valli:

Last March I joined the Carrboro, NC, No Boundaries running program. I was a size 2X who did not run. Four months later I was a size 2X who could run 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in 40-45 minutes. Both I and my running coaches considered this a success. And tonight I'll be rejoining the program for the fall--something I've never done with any other exercise program.

The focus of NoBo is on starting, improving, and maintaining ones running, with as little pain and injury as possible. There are weekly running sessions (biweekly is an option in some locations), followed by seminars on topics such as safety and injury prevention. There was one nutrition seminar, but it was about eating to sustain a good running program rather than eating to lose weight--more about what to include in your meals than what to leave out.

Like most exercise programs, NoBo is as good as its leadership and the Carrboro NoBo program has terrific coaches. Some of the coaches are slender athletic types, and others, including one of the featured speakers at the post-run seminars, are somewhat larger. The larger speaker started with the inaugural, local NoBo course several years ago. She came to her presentation last spring with 10 or so half-marathon medals and said, essentially, "I am an athlete. Screw anyone who tells you you can't do this."

The classes are divided into coached groups according to self-assessed ability. If you discover you are faster or slower than your group you are free to move to another. There are coaches who cheerfully work with the slowest group--even if you have trouble walking (much less running) that first mile. If you are large and can run with the advanced group, you are welcome in the advanced group. As a non-runner I started out in the "beginning beginners" group, along with slender out-of-shape women, larger out-of-shape women, and women who were recovering from various injuries and health problems. When my shoes caused me to stop jogging and limp through the second half of the course on the first run, one of the coaches dropped back and walked me to the end of the route. When one of the other women had a bad health-issue day, one of the coaches dropped back and made sure she made it back to her car.

In my NoBo group many of the coaches and participants live in the community. So when I went out for solo practice runs, I'd occasionally meet these familiar, athletic people giving me a thumbs-up. It was extraordinary. I'd put on my running shoes in the morning and think, "I might meet someone I know. And they won't hoot at the fat woman bouncing along the sidewalk. They'll cheer me on. Day-um!" The summer high temperatures averaged around 95F in my area, and I kept up my summer running schedule of 2-3 miles, 2-3 times a week, for just about all of it. A significant amount of the credit for that goes to the support and encouragement of the NoBo group.

The store that sponsors NoBo also has supplies for large women. I needed size 40DD sports bras, and they had them in stock. I wanted sweat-wicking running shirts, and they had them in my size, out on the floor. There was no, "Well, we'd have to special order that size," "We keep those sizes in back," or "They just don't make that sort of thing in those sizes." I was treated like just another athlete who wanted to buy sports gear.

While this is not a program designed specifically for people of size, my experience with it was unreservedly positive. It was large-woman friendly, older-woman friendly, and even athletics-averse friendly. I'd highly recommend joining the Carrboro group. I can only hope the nation-wide version is as good.

A Short Editor's Note: According to the No Boundaries website, the program is also for people who want to be able to walk 5K.

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