By Katie Demeria
FRONT ROYAL -- Colleen Snyder, 58, of Linden, is an average runner. She tries to get out three times a week if she can, and has been working to increase her speed. But 16 years ago, she could only walk five minutes before she grew tired.
She suffered from various health issues and described herself as "very sick." She said she also had "caregivers disease" -- she is the primary caregiver for her disabled son.
"I thought I should do something," she said. "So I started building up, building up, and pretty soon I was able to walk for 30 minutes. It took about a year to get to that point."
The running community has been growing much larger in recent years, Snyder said. Shenandoah Valley Runners, a local running group she joined, has been consistently increasing in size. Sometimes as many as 300 local runners attend their events.
According to Deborah Inaba, exercise physiologist with Shenandoah Memorial Hospital, running is an excellent, free way to get in shape -- so long as an individual gets into the routine safely.
She also said it is a great way for someone to turn things around when they are feeling bad, like Snyder.
"At first it's hard, but if you do it on a consistent basis, you start to feel better, because everything starts to kick in," Inaba said.
That is exactly what happened to Snyder.
Once she could walk a decent amount, Snyder purchased a book on running and a stopwatch. She began running for a minute, then walking, then pushing herself again.
"When I first started, I thought I was going to die," she said. "I started building, building, building, and finally I was able to do a very slow run for 30 minutes."
From there she became involved in Shenandoah Valley Runners, participating in some of the 5ks and weekly exercise events the group holds for its members.
"It teaches you that you have the body you have, and you need to work with it," she said. "You find where you are in line, and that's it. You need to feel good about where you are."
The group embraces individuals of all ages and fitness levels. Some just walk the 5ks, taking an hour to complete them, while others speed through and reach the finish line within 15 minutes.
Her son, Alexander, eventually joined as well, becoming a staple at the events. He has even completed a 5k of his own.
Though her son is involved to an extent, Snyder said the best part of starting to run was that it was a "great escape."
"It was something I was doing for myself, rather than for someone else," she said. "It's a great stress relief."
"My health vastly improved," she added. "I went from being 50 pounds overweight, barely able to really get out there and walk, to being able to run distances."
Her time running has benefited her in many ways -- physically, mentally and socially.
"It's very satisfying to say, 'I'm going to go out and I'm going to do this particular workout,' and know that you can do it," she said.
Shenandoah Valley Runners will hold the Woodstock 5 Miler today. To learn more, go to www.svrunners.org.
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org