KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Birthdays are motivators. Last March, Tere Gathright was staring at 32. She had an unkind thought about herself.
“I’m overweight and bored,” the thought went. “I need a hobby. What better birthday present than to do something for me?”
She glanced back and forth between her 1-year-old and 5-year-old. As much as she loved her daughters, the “something” she had in mind would not involve small children tugging at her. She was intrigued by a flier she had seen about a six-week, walk-run training program.
The Merriam, Kan., woman had exercised and dieted off and on but never stuck with anything. She tried to recruit friends to join her in the training session but had no takers.
She went anyway. This story doesn’t end with Gathright transformed into an ultra-marathoner, at least not yet. But she finished the six-week session and walked and ran through her first race, the Mother’s Day 5K at Corporate Woods in Overland Park, Kan.
Now she runs that three-mile distance several times a week, with longer runs on Saturdays. Plus, she has lost 20 pounds. And she found Annie Schroeder.
Schroeder was 21, single and with no children, and she had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia a year earlier. The two were not in the same place in life. Doctors had advised Schroeder to steer clear of exercise that would aggravate her joints. She already had had surgery on both ankles. But the restriction didn’t sit well with her. “I was sick of people telling me, ‘You can’t.’ ”
So Schroeder joined weekly group runs with KC Express, a women’s running and walking group, and fell into pace with Gathright, fresh off her Mother’s Day Run success.
They struck up conversations during longer runs — they both liked to bake, Schroeder was a nanny and preschool teacher — that led to a running partnership and a new friendship.
“You’re three miles out and have to run three miles back, and you feel like you can’t take another step,” Gathright said, recalling those early days. “It was a lot of fun trying to keep each other motivated.”
Gathright ran her first 10K last September, and Schroeder ran her first half-marathon, about 13 miles, last October.
“It’s amazing how much emotion comes out at the finish line,” said Schroeder, who admitted she cried and hugged folks she barely knew.
“Big hugs,” she said. “It was a blast.”
Kelly Pfannenstiel, past president of KC Express, which hosts the Mother’s Day 5K, said its relatively simple goal of the 5K has launched many a runner, and for good reasons. Some runners get fit with that distance and stick with it. Others want to try for 10Ks and beyond. “It’s an ideal distance,” she said. “It’s doable for just about anyone, any age, any weight. That’s actually how I got into running.”
And finding a person to run with can make a big difference.