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Running isn’t easy. It takes discipline to hit the trails and put up miles, while dodging the obstacles that keep you from reaching your goals. Few people are as aware of this as the runners participating in the Gateway to the 5k training program at Vertical Runner in Black Mountain.

As the group of aspiring trail runners trots through the halfway point of their training, there has been plenty to overcome.

Dennis Gregory, a firefighter with the Swannanoa Fire Department who also serves as a volunteer firefighter in Black Mountain, is a good example. He entered the program back in the beginning of June with a goal of running a half marathon.

Gregory was making steady progress until he stubbed his toe a few weeks back.

“I’m pretty sure it’s broken,” he said minutes before his first run since suffering the injury. “There isn’t a lot you can do about a broken toe, so I’ve just been trying to stay off of it as much as possible since then.”

Knowing he would be doing one of his two weekly runs with the organizers of the group - Shaun Pope, Mindy Smith and Mike Guyer - Gregory tested his toe on a three-mile run the night before.

“It felt pretty good,” he said. “I think I’m ready to get back out there.”

The program is designed to prepare less-experienced runners for a trail race at Camp Grier in Old Fort on Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 3). Gregory signed up because his sons, William and Kaiden, enjoy running. Not only does running help him bond with his children, it also makes him healthier.

“Before when I would climb four to six flights of stairs I’d really feel it,” he said. “Now I can go up 10 flights easily and feel like I could turn around and do it again. My agility has improved too.”

So has his stamina, added Gregory, who started running before he joined the group.

“I’ve run 5ks and 10ks in the past,” he said. “A 10k is just over six miles, but now I’m able to go out and do nine (miles).”

Gregory wasn’t the only member of the group sidelined by a foot injury. Jill Perry accidentally knocked a rock off a wall at her home, which resulted in an ankle injury. 

“It's pretty black and blue," Perry said. "I'm going to be out of commission for about a week or two."

Before the injury, Perry, who had not run before joining the group, was feeling the benefits of the training regimen.

She has more energy than when the program began and her chronically stiff back has given her less grief, she said.

“I feel so much better,” Perry said. “In fact, when I went to see my (physician assistant) about my foot, she noticed that I had lost a few pounds since my last visit and that I was feeling stronger in general.”

Improved health, however, is just one of the things she’s gotten out of her first few weeks of training.

“I'm not really extroverted, I lean more towards being an introvert," she said. "So coming into this setting made me a little nervous. But this group is incredible and the people are fun, nice and encouraging."

Linda Arthur is quite familiar with what Perry is talking about. (Linda) was a member of the original Gateway to the 5K group last year and had to abandon the program due to a myriad of personal reasons.

“Life gets in the way," she said. "I started last year with the group and made it through August, but I didn't finish because I had a lot of things going on with my family. I came back because I really missed the support of this group."

Arthur was no stranger to running when she joined the Gateway to the 5k in 2017. 

"I've run for several years," she said. "I've run 5ks, 10ks, half marathons and I've run two marathons in the past 10 years."

As she sought to get back into the sport she reached out to Smith about signing up for the training program again. 

"Mindy is great," Arthur said. "She gives you a program, helps you with ideas and really looks out for the people in the group."

The supportive approach taken by Smith and the other coaches had an immediate impact on Arthur, who said she is feeling stronger with each training session. 

"I can already feel myself getting back to where I need to be," she said. "It's still a climb, but at least I know I'm getting there."

The Black Mountain resident gave up running last distances in recent years due to back issues, but plans to finish what she started this summer. But for now she's just enjoying the opportunity to get back into the sport. 

"I feel better, I'm eating better, my thoughts are clearer," she said. "Once you get out there and do the physical work it makes a huge difference." 

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