Gazelle Sports Grand Rapids — Priority Health Run Camp
Gazelle Sports, Grand Rapids
Info Night: Jan. 6, 7 p.m.
Run up to Run Camp: Jan. 9, 8 a.m.
Training: Jan. 16–May 7
$100, gazellesports.com, (616) 940-9888
*Long Distance Training Programs are offered at all Gazelle Sports locations, in addition to 5k/10k Training Programs
When the alarm vexingly sounds at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, the natural instinct is to remain in the warm cocoon of blankets.
But as the alarm pierces the silence, members of the Gazelle Sports’ Run Camp skip the snooze. They know what they have to do: Get up, do a few quick stretches, grab a quick bite and head out the door. Their tribe is waiting.
That tribe consists of more than 200 seasoned runners who are wild enough to run through rain, sleet, snow and whatever else Michigan concocts. No matter how many layers of garments these racers have to put on — they’re in it together.
The joggers meet under the watchful eye of Chris Spyke, the Long Distance Training Program Coordinator at Gazelle Sports Grand Rapids.
Spyke is a self-professed running nerd who fondly remembers his first session with the Gazelle Sports Grand Rapids Priority Health Run Camp.
“When I joined the program I was pleasantly surprised at the people, which is why I come back,” Spyke said. “I love to run but I love the people that I’ve met through it more. “
The program is a partnership between Gazelle Sports and Priority Health and is a 16-week winter run camp geared toward training runners for a half marathon (13.1 miles) and/or 25k (15.5 miles). The group trains specifically for the women-only Gazelle Girl Half Marathon on April 17 and the Fifth Third River Bank Run 25k on May 14, but runners can train for any race of their choosing or simply run for fun.
Making the transition from a 5k or 10k to a half marathon can be intimidating, but Spyke encourages runners to attend Info Night on Jan. 6 and also to join other participants at Gazelle’s Run up to Run Camp, a test run held on Jan. 9.
“We always let you come out and run with us once for free,” Spyke said. “Talk to the other people in the group because they probably had the same nerves at one point. It’s really the community that gets you through.”
Throughout the training program, the group meets every Wednesday at 6 p.m. in East Grand Rapids and every Saturday at 8 a.m. at one of four rotating locations throughout Grand Rapids.
Wednesday night runs focus on speed and building faster runners. Expect hills, tempo runs and speed workouts. On Saturdays, the focus shifts to stamina. The runs are longer with the goal of helping runners gradually become comfortable with longer distances.
Spyke recommends runners be able to run three to five miles comfortably before joining the group. He can then help runners choose between two training models offered during winter run camp, “compete” or “complete.”
“The ‘complete’ model is essentially that,” Spyke said. “Someone who is looking to run a new distance or just finish a race comfortably. The ‘compete’ model is a little more rigorous — someone shooting for a personal record or to improve their training.”
Runners are broken up into pace groups — there are six in all — and follow the direction of not only Spyke, but various team leaders associated with their group.
“Team leaders are probably the most crucial aspect to our training program,” he said. “They create the positive, supportive atmosphere. When you’re having a tough run, which is bound to happen, they are there to help you get through it and make sure you don’t get lost. It would be chaos without our team leaders.”
Gazelle Sports Grand Rapids Community Outreach and Assistant Store Manager, Cara Zerbel, is proud of what makes the program stand out from others.
“There are other training groups in the area that do a great job,” Zerbel said. “But where we’re different is our program leaders and our team leaders understand what it’s like to be that person coming in the door for the first time.
“And it doesn’t matter whether someone crosses in front of you or behind you,” Zerbel added. “We’re all cheering for each other.”