Since my transformation, during which I lost 135 pounds, fitness has become an important part of my life. So, as often as I can, I want to bring to you a bit of the motivation that drove me to change my habits.
My friend Heather McCann has started Valley Sweat Life, which is a resource for fitness information in the Central Valley. With her blessing, I post on FresYes.com some of her amazing stories and explorations of our fitness and health community. I encourage you to check out Heather’s site and follow Valley Sweat Life on Facebook and Instagram!
[The following was posted on Valley Sweat Life on June 12, 2018 and has been edited for clarity and formatting.]
First Take: Sierra Challenge Express Running Club
by Heather McCann
Coach Ray’s Top Tips for a Successful Run Club
- Dream big.
- Keep it simple.
- Water is the staff of life.
- Your best effort is all I ask.
- Run, walk, just move!
The Sierra Challenge Express Running Club calls itself a family. This is the most diverse fitness family I have ever been around, with a broad range of ages, fitness levels, and ethnic backgrounds.
“We’re a little family, you know? That’s really it,” Coach Ray Knight shares while pushing someone else’s toddler in a stroller.
“Somehow they come out to be abused, and they abuse me, and here we are. This is like our little home away from home.” Someone inches up behind us and Ray preps to heckle them. He knows everyone’s name.
The first time I go to run club, I’m nervous. I’m not a great runner. I sit in the car on a cold Sunday morning and wait until I see my friend Mara pull in. The group meets early on Saturdays and Sundays at the Parkview Shelter in Woodward Park, and Tuesday through Thursday at other locations. We park and gather right on time.
“Before meeting the group, I was kind of nervous but excited,” says Audrey Chavez after her first run with SCE. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but everyone was so friendly and supportive.”
We gather in a half circle around Coach Ray as he scans the group for new faces while making announcements. Coach Ray and I have spent some time together in the community and he makes a big to-do about me being here. I’m a mixture of embarrassed and flattered.
He sees a few other new faces and makes an equally big to-do about them being here. It turns out Coach Ray makes a big to-do about everyone being here. We are no more than four minutes into our morning and every person is smiling.
Coach Ray explains the training plan for the morning. Saturdays are longer runs and intervals, Sundays are usually hills. If you don’t know what he’s talking about, it’s okay. I follow along and hope I don’t hurt myself.
Reverend Cornel says a prayer thanking God for bodies that move, health, and this beautiful world that brought us together. We’re now six minutes in and haven’t started running, but I’m connected, inspired, and frankly, hooked.
“I ran a little collegiately. I was a sprinter in the 200 and 400,” Coach Ray explains. “After that, I wanted to stay fit and eventually started distance running. Before you know it, we formed a group of people who shared the same philosophy and we all trained together in the late 70s.”
SCE became an official running group in 1999. They have over 500 members now and are able to support local non-profits and fund running scholarships.
It’s hard to get a clear answer through the jokes and pranks as to how Coach Ray and Coach Rich Deveau joined forces to lead this group. I hear a story about fighting over the breakfast bill. I hear a story about Ray’s team beating Rich’s team in a race before they came together. I hear a story about Rich’s wife Pam having knee surgery and Ray driving her home amidst confused nurses. They have so many family stories.
“When I’m out running, I see very few people that have a frown on their face,” says Coach Rich. “They may not be smiling through the hurt but they’re not sad. There’s no depression out here. There’s a lot of support.”
This running group is unique in the way that we stay together for the first part of the morning. Coach directs us around loops or hills; walkers seem to take the shorter route but no one can really tell because we are always coming back together. The result is a group of people who feel successful and challenged in their training and connected to each other.
Eventually we break into the goal for the day. If you want to hang with the walkers and chat, you do. If you want to throw on your headphones and use the runner in front of you to drive you to your goals, you do.
Each run lasts about one hour. There is no need to sign up to attend, but the club does ask that you become a member if you continue to come. The cost is $30 for the year to cover insurance and special events, and give you discounts to local races.
I have been back to run club three times since that first morning. I hadn’t run more than a mile or two in years but I’m up to six miles with the club. I’m pretty sure I’m part of the family. I’m game if they are.