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There's a lot of running going on in West Virginia and the surrounding region these days. Running for health, fitness and fun has led to the rise of running groups, clubs and sponsored races in towns, cities and woodlands across the state.
Statistics declare Appalachia ground zero for an obesity epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 35 percent of West Virginians are obese.
Running can be the first step - followed by a lot more footfalls - on the road to fitness and health, and it is a fun communal activity.
So, where did all the runners come from, and how are they finding places and races to run?
Try This West Virginia, an organization dedicated to fostering fitness and health programs around the state, has set up a website, called the West Virginia Running Resource Network (wvrunresourcenet.com) as a place to find all the running programs. It has links to running groups, races, mentors and trails.
"We've got most of them, but it is growing so fast that it is hard to know if we have them all. I'm sure we will be contacted by other running groups who want added to the list, said Kate Long, Try This co-director.
The website includes running groups that have agreed to mentor new groups and provide information about grants to help get local programs started.
"This is about West Virginians helping West Virginians, she said.
Any weekend, you can find a race to run, if you are interested. Websites including TriStateRacer.com, APTiming.com, Iplayoutside.com and West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners list races and runs in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and beyond.
There are dozens of events each month, starting at 5-kilometer races (3.1 miles) that benefit local charities, and reaching endurance events that span up to 50 kilometers (31 miles), races over trails, up and down mountains and through the woods.
Ricky Campbell, president and founder of Appalachian Timing Group, of Huntington, operates a service to handle logistics for local races, timing runners and photographing participants.
"I know, for us, we have seen an increase in races, he said.
The group logged 60 races in 2015, 95 in 2016 and roughly 105 in 2017, so far, in the regions they work with in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.
"I know we have timed almost 20 races alone in the city of Pikeville, Kentucky, he said.
There are definitely more races and more runners, according to Pat Riley from TriStateRacer.com.
"We used to have one race a month with 100 people. Now we see seven to eight on any weekend in our region, and each can get that amount of people, Riley said. "We see people coming out for a number of reasons. Some are competitive; some are to support the charity.
Riley's website has promoted at least 500 regional races every year since 2014.
The Genesis Running program, started by Matt Young, has helped more than 2,000 people take up running for exercise.
"I saw a desperate need to help people in our community live better and healthier lives, he said. "I felt I had the ability, and, most importantly, the desire, to help, so I did.
Young's Genesis 5k program takes people of every skill level. It is one of several Couch to 5k programs getting people moving. He started offering the Genesis program as a free ministry at his church in 2007, and it took off from there.
"For the first several years, we ran one or two classes a year, and up until 2012, the biggest class was 35, he said. "In 2012, our spring class drew over 90 people, and since 2013, we've been running four 5k classes per year, in addition to a half-marathon class.
The group's classes now draw more than 400 people annually, and they've hosted classes in Charleston, Hurricane, Barboursville and Princeton, he said.
"We also have a virtual class that allows anyone to join the class from wherever they live and participate by video and email instruction, he said.
Young's students range in age from 6 to 83 years old and include both men and women. His classes are predominantly women, however.
"Whether its men saying they don't need help, that it's just running, or women taking the initiative to take the class, I don't know, but our classes are about 80 percent women, he said.
Young explained, when men do participate in his classes, often their wives or girlfriends make them come.
Stefanie Stacy currently completing the Genesis program for the second time. She is running with a friend taking the class, but she likes the atmosphere of the program and the ability to run with the group.
"I like being out here with everyone, but it also makes me accountable to myself. It makes me keep it up, Stacy said.
Another of Young's students, Stacy's mother, was the first in the family to begin the program. A friend did the class and encouraged her to take it.
"I was, like, Tabby, I'm 59 years old. I could never run that far,' Stacy's mother said. "My goal was to lose some weight and get some exercise. It feels so good now to be able to leave the boat, make it all the way up the ramp and the steps, and even have enough energy to make it up the steps to the house without taking a break in between.
Many people who choose to take up running as a form of exercise do so because it is relatively easy when it comes to equipment needs. They often find out that it brings them more than just simple exercise, though.
"Running was initially a way for me to move and be with my wife who runs, Mac MacMillian said. "I soon got to know many in the running community. Being a social creature, I made friends who shared the same feelings I did about the sport. It has become not only exercise, but a time to be with those friends.
"Sure, I guess I could get exercise in other ways, but I really like runners. Running, in particular, is something I enjoy as an outlet for stress. It has become mostly that for me with the added benefit of the social group interactions.
"I can run with others or be totally alone, if I need that. I have also been sucked into goal setting through running. I am always training to reach some goal ... distance or time. I would have to say running is the perfect sport. It can be a challenge or a simple pleasure.
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