For many of the 230 participants of the Marathon Makeover (including this writer), describing themselves as marathoners is a new concept. But Mark Simpson reminds participants weekly that the act of signing up for the program and showing up for group walks/runs on Saturdays means that they are indeed marathoners, with the goal of finishing the Chicago Marathon in October.
Simpson and his wife, Robin, have successfully guided groups for three years as they trained for the marathon. Marathon Makeover is a wellness program of Simpson’s LifeChange Counseling Center in Clinton. Now, for the fourth year, the Simpsons are helping ordinary people do the extraordinary — train for and finish the Chicago Marathon.
“We have walkers, runners, joggers and woggers (walk/jog) and most of our past marathoners could barely walk or run one mile when they started,” Simpson stated. “Through our hands-on training, positive motivation and the friendly group experience of Marathon Makeover, people from all walks of life and ages have grown through this life changing experience.”
For the first 10 weeks, participants attended Saturday morning educational meetings that taught the marathoners what they needed to know to get started and train for a marathon. Special attention was paid to helping everyone connect with others and develop a support team of other highly motivated people.
Participants met at the Baptist Healthplex Jackson and Clinton locations followed by a group training run/walk that gradually increases each week. Presentations have been made by Dr. Virgil Taylor, a chiropractor in Clinton, who spoke to the group on the prevention and treatment of sports injuries, as well as representatives from Fleet Feet, who spoke on proper running attire. Other topics covered were nutrition, overcoming negative thoughts and testimonials from past marathoners. Many Saturdays, the group walk/run concludes with samples of fresh bread from Great Harvest Bread Company, one of the sponsors of the program.
Now that the first 10 weeks is complete, the group continues to meet on Saturday mornings for group training runs. The location of the runs will rotate between Clinton, the Reservoir and Highland Colony Parkway in Ridgeland. Hydration stations of water and Gatorade are provided for each training run, as well as, post run snacks for the longer runs. Each route is mapped out and clearly marked.
Another thing the marathoners don’t have to worry about is travel arrangements to Chicago, as the Simpsons handle that as well. “Some people balk at the amount (roughly $1,000) of the trip, but when they consider that they’ll be staying in the heart of Chicago in a five-star hotel on the biggest event of the year, hanging out with people they’ve trained with for nine months, having 1.5 million people cheer for them for 26.2 miles, and running and walking with 45,000 other marathoners, they understand that the experience of participating in the Chicago Marathon is priceless.”
Health benefits of training and participating in a marathon are priceless as well. Many participants report weight loss, lowered blood pressure and other positive effects.
As each year goes by, the Simpsons have hammered out the kinks in the program. The list of sponsors continues to grow, and now the Simpson’s goal is to duplicate the program in other areas of the state, throughout the South and, ultimately, nationwide.
“We are producing a video series and a leader’s manual so that someone can literally take the program and ‘run with it,’ so to speak,” said Mark Simpson. “We are even exploring franchising the program as a method of duplicating, because we want ownership in the leadership. It could be a great way for someone to earn a nice extra income while ensuring that the group will always have a dedicated leader.”