Erin Parmelee considers herself athletic, but she wasn't what you'd call a runner.
That didn't stop her sister, Shannon Hodges, from throwing down.
Hodges - a National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association-certified running coach, 12-year running veteran and two-time marathon finisher - was thinking about starting an EZ8 Running program in Lawrence, and she bounced the idea off her sister.
"She was considering doing this and said, 'Hey, do you want to do a marathon?'" Parmelee recalled. "I'd never considered a marathon, but I figured, why not? Since she was starting this program, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get in a lot of miles."
That was back in April.
Hodges started her first eight-week session about six weeks ago, and Parmelee plans to try her first half marathon in October. She says she remains on track to tackle a full 26.2-mile marathon in January.
"The thing that surprised me most is, I like the long runs," she said. "Two days a week, you do shorter runs and drills. We had to run up and down the hill at the Lied Center, and I thought I was going to die. Then Friday, we ran four miles, and it was almost relaxing. I'm really surprised in just six weeks I could get to four miles."
Prior to joining the EZ8 program, Parmelee had not run at all.
"The last time I ran?" the 30-year-old Parmelee asked, laughing. "Didn't they make you run 12 minutes in high school?"
What is EZ8?
The EZ8 Running program started with a group of middle-aged women in Orange, Calif., who ran, on average, a 10- to 11-minute mile. Coach Christina Lucy developed an eight-week program to bring the group's mile time down to the eight-minute goal, thus the EZ8 name.
The program since has gone global.
"It's specifically for women who are beginning to intermediate-level runners," Hodges said. "One girl is running who has never run before. A couple have done 5Ks but are interested in getting better times. One's interested in doing a half marathon. Another one is just interested in getting back into shape, learning a new hobby. She always wanted to run, but never had the tools or group or knew what to do."
That's where Hodges and her EZ8 program come in.
Hodges' program has the women meet three times a week, from 5:20-6:30 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday at locations throughout Lawrence.
The women have specific drills - like speedwork or hills - and go on a long run every Friday.
"It's individualized to meet people's goals," Hodges said. "When they come into the program, I have them fill out a questionnaire to find out what kinds of things are motivating to them. We try to work with each person to get them where they want to be."
A constant is the noncompetitive nature of the workouts.
They are designed so the women of differing fitness levels can get better - together. They do runs based on time instead of distance, for instance, so they all return at the same time, or do a loop-around run, where the leader loops around to the back of the pack to keep the group together.
"There's a certain technique in the program, where we do the runs so you can never tell who's the first runner and who's the last runner," Hodges said. "That's one of the things unique to the program, and they show you how to incorporate beginners with someone who's more experienced."
'It's been really good'
Count Coyla Lockhart in the latter group.
Lockhart, 58, has run for about five years and competed in several 5Ks. She joined EZ8 to improve her times.
"I just wanted to be more consistent," she said. "I'd never done anything like this before. I started reading a book, but you don't get quite as inspired by reading about something as you do by doing something. And Shannon brings information about different things every time. You get lots of information about stretching and health and running technique to improve leg strength and long-distance abilities. It's been really good."
The program in Lawrence is for women only, though some EZ8 programs allow men, too.
"The core of the whole program is, when women come together to run, especially at 5 in the morning, you're all out there with no makeup. You just rolled out of bed. You're just yourself," Hodges said. "It just works. It's really good for establishing friendships. It doesn't matter what your abilities are. The group dynamic is supporting and nurturing."
Parmelee is a believer.
"It makes me feel like I have a group," she said. "We went on a four-mile run last week. I'd never run that far before, and I was mentally psyched out. It just changes your experience to go running with other people. I feel I have people cheering for me."
Now, about that 5:20 a.m. start time :
Hodges admits it scares some potential participants away, but she is sold on that ungodly hour. And testament to the group's commitment is this tidbit: No one ever has no-showed for a predawn run.
"It makes it harder to find some people for the program," Hodges said, "but I call it the no-excuses hour. Nothing else gets in your way at 5:20 in the morning. The only thing standing between you and getting out there is getting out of bed."
The second eight-week session starts July 30, and Hodges plans to limit it to 16 participants. The program costs $180 for the full eight weeks. More information is available at runez8.com