When Ottawa Race Weekend descends on the capital city at the end of May, many runners will step to the start line of the 5K for the first time, adding an exciting new chapter to their running story. The stories will vary, but they will no doubt share some plot points with the journey of Michelle Carlesimo, a Running Room 5K Training Program leader and Ottawa 5K veteran. In fact, it’s that unique bond between new runners that drives Michelle’s coaching, and sees her athletes to the finish line at the end of their ten weeks together.
“Even when you aren't a new runner, running groups can be really intimidating,” Michelle says. “Many groups state that they’re open to any pace or level, but then you show up and there isn't anyone else that is new, and you feel isolated. With the 5K program, you know that the other participants are close to your level and I think this helps people stick with it.”
She knows because she’s lived it. “I didn't start running until I was 32 years old, 9 years ago,” she recalls. “I tried to run once during a lunch break with some colleagues and couldn't do it – I thought I was going to die. After that, I started getting on the treadmill for a bit. I was only able to run for maybe 60 seconds at first. I distinctly remember being able to run for 8 minutes straight - it boggled my mind at the time.”
Since then, Michelle’s mind has been firmly set, and she’s made it her goal to share her passion for running with others just starting out as she had. She became a program leader, she says, “because I really want everyone to love running as much as I do.”
“I also really wish someone had been there to give me real, useful information when I first started running,” she continues. So runners in Michelle’s program can expect some hard truths, but in the end, it’s in the overcoming where gains are made.
“I try to be honest with everyone,” she says. “That running can be both hard and fun at the same time. It’s uncomfortable, especially when you are a newer runner. I think just putting that out there, and then working to build the confidence that they can do it anyway, is important.”
But even then, she says, it’s often not the physical challenges that throw up the biggest obstacles, but the mundane “regular” tasks we all face: “Child care, commuting, dinner! The Running Room [5K Program] is after work, and people have to plan and prepare for all of those everyday things in order to get there.”
This level of consistency is key in Michelle’s program, and she sees first-hand the power of a single group focus in achieving it. “Let's face it,” she says. “The treadmill is awful. It’s unlikely to inspire people to stick with it. But the program is somewhere you can go, where you don't have to run alone, and you can ask any question you have. For a new runner, it really helps to have others to run with.”
It helps to keep her motivated, too. “It’s just knowing that at least one person is there waiting for me,” she says. “That there is at least one person who would not have gotten out of bed, or left the house after work if it wasn't for the program. It's always about the people in my program at that time.”
Now, she delights in watching her runners achieve successes that boggle their minds. “The energy is great with the 5K-ers. They aren't a bunch of jaded know-it-all runners yet,” she adds with a wink.
A distinction reserved for completing the Ottawa 5K, perhaps?
Perhaps not quite. But for those looking to see how that particular accomplishment really feels, Michelle’s program at the Running Room on Slater Street may be the perfect place to start.
Like at all Running Room 5K Programs, training with Michelle builds at an easy pace while at the same time providing the tools it takes finish a 5K by the end. “It builds runners’ confidence so they can go and enjoy Race Weekend,” she says. “We also have an advantage as our store is only two blocks from the start line, so our members get to run the actual course. It takes away the ‘fear of the unknown’ – or at least part of it!”
And when you sign up for a Running Room 5K Program you can trust that any remaining trepidation will disappear into the camaraderie you’ll find among your fellow first-timers, as well as your program leader who has been where you are now – and has inspiring stories to tell.