Inexperienced runners learn to conquer the trails at Vertical Runner

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News|USA TODAY NETWORKS

Every run starts with a single step, a moment when an individual makes the conscious decision to take off.

In the metaphorical sense, that’s what was happening June 13 inside Black Mountain Vertical Runner, as a group of runners get ready to hit the road. Within “The Posse,” a large group known for its Wednesday evening jaunts through town, is a smaller band of runners who are taking their first steps in the sport.

Vertical Runner’s Summer Fun Trail 5K training program, also known as the Gateway to the 5K, is back for its second year. The program, which culminates with runners of varying degrees of experience participating in the Gateway 5K and 10K in Old Fort on Monday, Sept. 3, was a success last year, according to Mindy Smith.

“Last year we saw people finish with so much more confidence than when they started,” said Smith, who who led the group last year with Shaun Pope, the owner of the store and Mike Guyer, its manager. “By the time they finished the race last year they were experienced runners.”

Jill Perry runs on Montreat Road on June 13 as she begins her training for the Gateway 5K in Old Fort in August.

Jill Perry is a beginner in the sport of trail running, in every sense of the word, she said. The Swannanoa resident met Pope at a restaurant recently and learned about the training program. 

"He told me about what they were doing here at the store," she said after her first run. "I had been very sedentary, which led to back problems, and I know I have to get active."

Running was not something Perry could've seen herself doing before her first trip with the group. 

"This is so out of my comfort zone," she said. "I hate to run."

What Perry likes, however, is knowing that the more she gets out and runs, the healthier she is becoming. She was apprehensive about the program at first, she said, but Pope told her she would feel at home in the group.

"I didn't know what to expect, but Shaun promised me there would be women here my age," she said. "It's a diverse group, as far as age, stages of life, everything. There's this camaraderie, and it's really important."

Donna Gray runs on a Wednesday evening in Black Mountain as she prepares for her first 5k, which will be at the Gateway 5K in Old Fort in August.

Donna Gray has hiked for years, but hasn't run in decades, she said. While scrolling through Facebook she saw the summer trail running group. 

She immediately thought "I think I need to do this," she said. 

"I thought this could help with my hiking, as far teaching me how to safely descend," she said. "But after a week I'm starting to get excited about focusing on my breathing too."

The program costs $100 per person and includes weekly runs, homework exercises and entry into the Gateway 5K and 10K at Camp Grier. 

"I love seeing runners out in Black Mountain," Pope said. "This is a running town."

Vertical Runner offered the training this year, he said, because it helps hold people accountable as they're learning the sport. 

"It motivates people to get up and do something they've wanted to do, but haven't been able to for whatever reason," Pope said. "It's the first step on the road to becoming a better you." 

For Dennis Gregory, who describes himself as more novice than beginner when it comes to running, the program is a chance to bond with his two sons. 

Dennis Gregory heads home from Vertical Runner on June 13 after completing a three-mile run to the Montreat gate and back.

"They love running," Gregory said minutes before his three-mile run. "This is one way we can spend time together doing something we enjoy."

When his son William began working with a running coach, Gregory figured he could benefit from training as well. He quickly set his sights on a challenging goal. 

"I'd like to run a half marathon," he said. 

He's confident that this program will help him achieve that. 

"One of the things that's great about this group is the expertise that the people who are running it bring to the table," Gregory said. "I'm excited that they can help me figure out how to do this in a way where I don't push too hard and hurt myself, while helping me reach some of my personal goals."

For Perry, who said she felt "great" after her first run with the group, it's all about feeling better. 

"I'm not in shape, but I already feel a little more confident in myself after this run," she said. "It's nice to know that I can do this."