West Virginia is often viewed as an unhealthy place to live. Much of this opinion unfortunately comes from real data. We are the second most obese state and No. 50 when it comes to trails. Four years ago, with the help of local partnerships, we set out to change that. What is "normal" today for families? Most get little exercise, they drive everywhere and activities are for a select group and always tied to outcomes. We set out to give opportunities in a small community by providing teaching, mentoring, opportunities, encouragement and some nice trails for the setting. The goal was to spark cultural change, reattach children and families to nature and heritage and produce mentors who will spread the themes deeper into each community.
It all started with Tiger on the Trail promoting non-competitive physical activity using "nature as the classroom". In contrast to traditional health/physical education; program participants learned about health, fitness, nature and local history while hiking to and through local National Parks during school hours. Tiger on the Trail has evolved from local grassroots efforts and now involves all the Middle Schools in Jefferson County. In four years, there has been over 3,500 individual student hikes covering 9,000 miles of trail.
With the awareness, we needed funds to achieve large goals, Freedom's Run was born. The idea was to put on an event that gave citizens awareness of healthy living, promote outdoor activity and in the process, discover the rich history of the area- an Event for Health and Heritage. A collaborative group between leads at the Eastern Area Health Education Center, WVU Hospitals East, the National Park Service, Shepherd University, local citizens and businesses and Two Rivers Heritage Partnership, teamed to create Freedom's Run. We offer opportunity for all to engage in a new challenge with five events- one mile kids fun run, 5k, 10k, Half Marathon and Marathon. The race raises funds for fitness trail building in our local elementary schools and supports initiatives of health and heritage.
With over 2,000 participants, Freedom's Run is the largest running event in West Virginia. Thirty-seven states were represented in the inaugural year, 42 states in the 2010 and 43 states in 2011. The event has been awarded 2011 and 2012 Road Runners Club of America Regional Marathon Championship. Over $50,000 has directly gone back to the community and additional grants have been acquired with the assistance we have given.
Page Jackson Community Trail and Garden
South Jefferson Elementary Outdoor Classroom and Trail
Driswood Elementary Fitness Trail
Rebuilt TA Lowery Elementary Greenhouse (destroyed by 2010 snow)
Ongoing large financial support to toward Hedgesville HS track
The Freedom's Run Team has also created additional events in the community for other non profits and lends large support to a growing number of events. The Eastern Panhandle now hosts over 20 events, all increasing in size. Four years ago there were three.
Shepherdstown has also established a leadership role in the growing field of running medicine and this evolved from Freedom's Run. As the races became too busy the town needed an event headquarters to help with the daily work and assist new runners in getting healthy. We opened Two Rivers Treads- A Center for Natural Running and Walking (tworiverstreads.com) in May 2010. Our customers are learning the benefits of good running form, barefoot and flat footwear. If you run any of the roads or trails in our town, it is tough to spot a traditional running shoe. To spread our health message wider we founded the Natural Running Center (naturalrunningcenter.com), an education portal designed to teach healthier running and promoting more natural footwear.
Our most recent and important development has been the formation of Two Rivers Heritage Partnership (www.tworiversheritage.org) - a non-profit with a mission is to raise awareness of the unique historical and natural resources that lie between the Potomac River and the Shenandoah River from the confluence at Harpers Ferry to Winchester Va. and Cumberland Md. TRHP will raise funds and awareness through events such as Freedom's Run and distribute resources back into the community.
Come join us October 13, participate in an event, and support these worthy causes.
Tips for participating in an event: 40 years ago Dr. George Sheehan wrote this in an essay called "The Basics of Jogging":
Few people know how fast to train. Most assume they must punish themselves to become fit. They think that becoming an athlete is hard work. That just is not so. Fitness must be fun. The rule is "train, don't strain."
If you follow this general rule you will likely succeed in starting a fitness plan.
With beginners the goal is to work up to 30 minutes of comfortable activity. Most of the health benefits happen in the first 30 minutes. You may start with 5 minutes and alternate running and walking. Make it a gradual progression.
The pace should be "comfortable". This is a conversational pace. I say the word "pace" as the focus is on the comfortable effort and not the speed.
Make your goal to do 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. Fit it into your day and make it a habit. The 30 minutes will add time to your day. You will think more clearly, sleep better, have more energy, and be in a better mood. If you cannot devote 30 minutes a day to your health you need to reassess some things in your daily life.
A few extras:
Contrary to conventional wisdom, your foot does not need a lot of support and protection to run. With a strong foot and good running mechanics your body will function again as it did when you were young, fast and springy in your legs.
You will enhance your energy and health by getting rid of the junk in your diet. This is the simple carbohydrates in processed and "white" food (breads, potatoes, rolls, baked goods). Replace this with healthy whole foods.
The beauty of running and walking is that you need no widgets. Comfortable wicking fabrics are great, a good sports bra for the ladies and thin wicking socks for the feet is all you need.