The sport of trail running attracts newcomers for a variety of reasons

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There are miles and miles of trails winding through the mountains of Western North Carolina, and at any time a wide array of people can be found running on them. The reasons newcomers are attracted to trail running may be even more diverse than the community itself.

Locally, the center of that community can be found at Vertical Runner Black Mountain. Perhaps nothing illuminates why people gravitate toward the sport better than the store’s Gateway to the 5K Beginner Training Program.

The 11-week training program is designed to serve as an introduction to trail running for people of all skill levels, according to Mindy Bayless, program director. Her goal is help the nearly two dozen people who signed up this season get ready for the Gateway 5K/10K at Camp Grier, Saturday, Aug. 26.

“To me trail running can be intimidating if you don’t know that it’s not,” she said. “A lot of people think of themselves running up trails on the side of mountains, and that’s not really what it is at all.”

Bayless got into running five years ago for the same reason a lot of people do - to improve her health.

“I was overweight and not in a good place mentally at that time,” she said.

She stumbled upon a training group at the YWCA of Asheville.

“I saw a little sign that said ‘do you want to change your life and run your first marathon?’” she said. “It said you could train with other beginners and I was like ‘Oh, that sounds easy.’”

A year later Bayless had run her first marathon and around three years ago she eased her way into trail running.

“Why not? We live in the most perfect place for it,” she said. “I remember that moving from road running to trail running was just such a different vibe. Road running is more about how fast you can finish, and trail running is a lot more relaxed.”

It didn’t take long for her to fall in love the sport.

“I run almost every day,” she said. “Last night I was on top of Black Balsam Knob and got to watch the sun go down, and that’s a cool experience. Having the freedom and ability to do that feels great.”

When Vertical Runner owner Shaun Pope and the store’s manager Mike Guyer, owner of Relentless Running Events, introduced the first Gateway 5K/10K, Bayless thought the race could be the perfect opportunity for people looking to get into trail running.

Charla Greene was one such person. Greene was far from an inexperienced runner when she signed up for the trail running program in June. In fact, she ran her second Boston Marathon in April.

“I’ve run lots of road races, but the whole concept of trail running is brand new to me,” said Greene, who moved to Black Mountain a few weeks ago. “That’s what made me get involved with the Gateway group.”

She started looking for a running group even before she moved from Massachusetts.

“I found Vertical Runner and saw the Facebook posts,” she said. “I started meeting the group on Wednesdays. It was a little outside of my comfort zone at first, but I’ve enjoyed running with the group so far.”

The Gateway to the 5K group meets two nights a week. On Saturday morning it meets at Veterans Park, and on Wednesday evenings, runners run with The Posse, a group of runners that has gathered weekly for several years.

By week three, Greene was adjusting to running on the trails and had already been convinced to register for the 10K race at Camp Grier instead of the 5K she initially signed up for. She was also making friends in the local running community.

“I’m a very social runner. That’s how I’ve made some of my best friends in different areas I’ve lived in,” she said. “So it’s been great for me to get involved in the running community here right away after moving here.”

Shawn Fadoir came to Black Mountain a few years ago, but she hadn't been a serious runner in the past.

"I enjoy running, but I've never really gotten into it," she said. "I've always lived in the city, but I don't like running on asphalt. I love hiking, so if I can get into trail running, being out in nature while getting exercise is a really good blend for me."

Fadoir wasn't sure what to expect when she began running with the training group. She soon found that members of the group were of varying skill levels.

"It's been nice, because there are people there who run at the same level as I do," she said. "And there are people who run way faster than I do, so trying to keep up kind of pushes you."

The first thing she learned from the training program was to adjust her running cadence and stride.

"Shaun (Pope) was ahead of me and I was watching his stride," she said. "At the end of the run I asked him about it and he showed me what I needed to be doing."

Adjusting her technique has impacted different muscles, she added.

Like Greene, Fadoir is also planning on running the 10K at Camp Grier. "I just want to be able to finish," she said. "As the training goes along, I may get more competitive with it."

Jodi Pippin and her husband Chuck signed up for the training program together, having completed the Fonta Flora Half Marathon at Lake James State Park in April. "I finished, but I came in last place," she said.

She was not exactly a stranger to running - she spent years running on roads until a ruptured disc forced her to have surgery.

"I was immediately drawn to the trails," she said. "I really enjoy being out in nature."

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