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I run. Jo Carson becomes a road warrior

I run. Jo Carson becomes a road warrior

Novice runner Jo Carson still finds it surprising that she has become a road warrior

I run. I’m an athlete. I’ve lost 47 pounds and a whole lot of inches. I am still obese. But, I’m a healthier obese person. I’ve been running for 10 months.

My family, friends and co-workers understand about my running. It’s all I can talk about sometimes. I owe much of my success to the Fort Smith chapter of Women Run Arkansas. I attended their clinic orientation last February where clinic director, Melissa Vitale, spoke enthusiastically about her own evolution as a runner and athlete. The truth is that the visual impact of her message was the most motivating part of the evening to me. Melissa did not look like the stereotypical female runner. She gave me hope. Before the clinic started, I bought running shoes.

The clinic was held at the Western Arkansas Runners building at Chaffee Crossing. Thank goodness for their indoor restroom. We met two days a week. The experience each day was both encouraging and structured. Women and men runners from our area volunteered to lead each group.

We chose our group that first day. We could walk or we could run in groups based on our experience. Runner A was for beginners. I stared at the sign-in sheets and thought, “If I don’t try running first, I may never do it.” I know myself. I could see myself as a walker. And to be honest, I’d walked in several 5K races so walking is familiar. I like familiar.

I joined Runner A the first day. I was a little scared because I figured I would need to move to the walkers. I didn’t think I had what it took to run. I was wrong. Our training alternated between running and walking. The group leaders carried timers and cued us to run or walk. Each time we were told to run, I ran. Each time we were told to walk, I walked. But there are not enough synonyms for the word “slow” to describe my speed as a runner.

I wore braces on my knees to protect them due to my weight and previous leg and knee injuries. I ran in yoga pants because I didn’t have any running clothes. I bandaged my toes like a trauma specialist until I discovered 2Toms Blister Shield. I was a sight. One clinic member told me she and her friends had prayed for me because they just knew that I was literally “on my last legs.”

I confess I love Internet memes that show awkward runners. They depict so much that is true about my running style.

When our clinic ended, we entered the WRA 5K race in Conway for clinic participants around the state. Almost 2,500 women ran together on May 7. The night before, I enjoyed all of the Facebook posts of race outfits laid out on beds in the shape of their owners, down to their running shoes. Running shoes. I had driven all the way to Conway and forgotten my running shoes. The hotel clerk told me where I could buy shoes at 9:30 p.m. I ran my first race in new shoes, something that is not recommended by experienced runners. I finished with a new PR, personal record. Apparently, adversity is a good motivator.

My yoga pants are too big now. I changed knee brace sizes. I bought running capris. My weight loss is so surprising to me that at times I gather up the extra inches of fabric in a piece of clothing I am wearing and marvel at it in my hand. My deepest revelation so far: I’ve added years to my life that I honestly hadn’t counted on before taking up running.

After the clinic ended, Vickie Lane Chamlee, Sonya Hiatt, Ann Bowers Kinder and I wanted to continue our running so we formed a group called the Road Warriors, joined by spouses and now, new Warriors. We train and race and socialize. Our cover photo on Facebook said it all: “Running, Cheaper Than Therapy.”

I ran with the Roadies three times a week after Conway but struggled on the track trying to make sense of where my efforts would take me. In mid-June, I found a running program online that looked realistic, a run/walk program by Olympian runner Jeff Galloway. I bought the corresponding 10K app for my mobile phone for $3.99. As it turns out, this is my cheapest weight loss program yet.

I made myself accountable for my running by posting my training runs and races on Facebook. I am grateful to my family and friends who took the time to “like” and “comment” about my running. The same night I downloaded my training app, I signed up for the Marine 10K race in Washington on Oct. 30. I could travel to DC, race and visit my brother, a retired Marine.

The next morning, I received my race registration confirmation email. I was shocked by my own audacity. It’s funny now but I wondered all that day whether I really knew what I had just committed to – running 6.2 miles, in front of my Marine brother and 6,000 other runners. Was I insane?

In July, my husband took me to a running clinic in Lawrence, Kan., where I met Jeff Galloway. He is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I told him I planned on running the Marine 10K in 3½ months using his method. He smiled. “Great! I’ll be there. I’m running the marathon. (He’s 71 years old.) Come by my booth at the Marine Expo.”

So, I trained through the summer and fall for the 10K. I worked through the heat and shin splints with the help of the Roadies and cut enough time off my pace to ensure that I could finish the race in the allotted time.

I visited Jeff Galloway’s booth the day before the race. We had our picture taken together. I told him about my progress. He was touched by my effort and he felt my next step was to let him coach me personally.

I told him, “I’ll think about it.” I still had to actually run and finish this race.

And, I did. My husband, brother and sister-in-law have photographic proof. It was weird, having cheerleaders. My family seemed as enthusiastic as I was, hurrying from one point to the next to watch my progress. There were Marines all along the race route, high-fiving you and yelling Marine “encouragement.” There are viewing stands at the end of the race. When I ran by, braces and all, I was moved to tears because the women in the crowd stood up and cheered, yelling my number and urging me to finish strong. I wear my Marine race jersey proudly. Would I run a 10K again? Sure. I just hope the next one is not as hilly as that course through downtown Rosslyn, Va.

Finding out that I could change my own behavior so dramatically was awesome and a bit unsettling. I ran my last race of 2016 in December and I set a personal 5K record. Back when I was 29, I trained to run a 13-minute mile in order to qualify for the FBI. My PR this year is .10 seconds over a 14-minute mile. I’ll be 62 in May. I’m getting close.

I’m going to train in the 2017 WRA clinic this spring. And, I’ve decided to participate in Jeff Galloway’s personal coaching program and see where that takes me. The Road Warriors have been talking about training for a half-marathon. For me, that’s awesome and still unsettling but I found out, it’s not impossible.

Read more about the Women Run Arkansas 2017 Clinic here.

Contributing writer Jo Carson is an Attorney Ad Litem representing children in dependency-neglect proceedings in juvenile court. And a runner. She and her husband, Brad, have three adult children. 

This article appears in the February 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.

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