On the Road with Women Run Arkansas/Batesville

Not sure what group 6-year-old Clara Nikkel signed up for in 2012, but that little chick inspired us all. Her mom, Amanda (in the background pushing little sis, Darcy), sometimes had her hands full keeping up. Many of us had to eat Clara’s dust. (Future clinic director in the making!) —photo by Suzanne Dickey

White River Roadrunners Secretary

The Women Can Run/Walk Clinic has spawned a bunch of crazy running chicks in the Batesville area.

Yes, the community already had its share of running and walking addicts of the female variety, but in the past couple of years, that number has grown noticeably.

Between late winter and Mother's Day each year, you're likely to see dozens of women of all descriptions (plus a couple of male coaches and even a tiny 6-year-old running chick) tearing up the roadways together. That's when the 10-week training clinic sponsored by the Women Run Arkansas Running and Walking Club hits the trail. (The WRA club is a member of the Road Runners Club of America.)

The clinic is free, and its directors and leaders are volunteers. Its popularity has grown across Arkansas since its start in Conway in 1997, and Batesville's venue has always attracted its fair share of participants. In 2011, nearly 250 women signed up, double the previous year’s 125. The registration and orientation meeting overflowed into the hallway (and 10 weeks later, the other 5k'ers in Conway talked about Batesville and that sea of neon-orange shirts – you could see us coming from a kilometer away!). Last year, Batesville had 137 that first night. From the first Conway clinic and its 75 participants, the phenomenon has grown to more than 40 clinics and 4,000 participants.

We are Woman; hear us roar.

We crazy running/walking chicks crowd Batesville's trails and streets, bumping elbows with one another, getting confused about which whistle, cowbell or shout to obey (each group has its own signal to speed up or slow down), laughing, joking about our jiggling body parts, whining (just a little bit), huffing and puffing, sweating and encouraging one another along the way. It's a beautiful sight – and sound (we won't mention the smell). The esprit de corps is palpable, and I love every stinking minute of it.

The clinic aims to turn couch potatoes into women on the move. No, we're not elite athletes; most of us will never go on to win an Olympic medal (but you never know!), and we aren't competing for college track scholarships. But signing up for the clinic has made a difference in a lot of lives in a lot of ways, big and small, physical, mental and emotional – the same ways running makes you feel better.

2013 clinic registration open

Registration for this year's Women Can Run/Walk Clinic has begun. The dates are Feb. 28 to May 11. We meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 8 a.m. Saturdays. Locations vary throughout the 10 weeks, but we most likely will begin at Fitzhugh Park on weeknights and the Batesville High School track on Saturdays.

We'll announce details regularly on the Batesville clinic's Facebook page, which you can access by clicking here or searching for Women Run/Walk Arkansas Clinic Batesville.

The clinic director this year is Suzanne Dickey, and co-directors are Stacey Cossey, Suzy Oakley and Bruce Oakley.

To preregister, visit the Women Run Arkansas website. You can register for the clinic and the 5k at the same time.

If you'd like to help as a volunteer coach – even if you can't commit to every single training session – contact one of the directors.

But the clinic isn't just for beginners. We have these levels:

  • Walker – The goal is to be able to complete a 5k and/or learn to walk longer and faster.
  • Beginning Runner A – Participants have not been running at all and want to be able to finish a 5k; this will include running with regular walk breaks.
  • Beginning Runner B – Participants have been running some but can't run 4 minutes at a time without walking. The goal is to finish a 5k, mostly with running, but it might include regular walk breaks. (This is usually the largest group, so we could use extra leaders.)
  • Intermediate Runner – Participants can run 4-10 minutes at a time without stopping to walk, or they're able to run a mile.
  • Advanced Runner – Participants can run 25-30 minutes without walking and want to improve speed or distance and participate in races.

About every three weeks, the clinic chicks do a Magic Mile – a timed mile that helps participants see how they're progressing. The Batesville clinic is fortunate to have Ken and Michelle McSpadden of Mac's Race Timing Service come out and volunteer their time, expertise and equipment for the Magic Mile. It not only saves the clinic leaders a lot of trouble (trying to use stopwatches and write down each participant's time while also serving as cheerleader and coach), it also makes the Magic Mile feel like a real, honest-to-goodness race, complete with chip timing, blaring music and Ken's corny jokes.

The Women Can Run/Walk Clinic is fun, but it also changes lives. Some of the women from 2011 didn't want to lose the mojo once the clinic was over, and they posted on Facebook a desire to continue meeting, sticking to the clinic's weekly schedule: Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings.

They had a willing leader in Coach Bruce (my husband, Bruce Oakley). Many of the ladies had started getting to know him midway through the clinic, after I had asked him to pitch in one day as he was dropping me off for the day's workout. He came that first time, and we ended up stuck with him. :-) He became our "mother hen," we his baby chicks.

How could I have known how that one simple invitation would change both of our lives? I'll spare you the rest of the details, unless you want to read my blog (click the running category to browse), but the bottom line is that Bruce and I fell in love with the Women Can Run/Walk Clinic and its multitude of personalities, fitness levels and enthusiasm.

We've made friends, gained accountability partners (needed not so much by Bruce, who was born to run, but by me, who was born to eat) and discovered an activity we could enjoy together. And somewhere in all that sweating, jiggling and friend-making, I actually grew to love running. I even lost about 40 pounds (and counting) in the process. But that's another story, too, told in multiple posts on Suzy & Spice (start with this one).

Let's just say the clinic has given a bunch of your fellow Batesville-area residents a reason to get out the door and keep getting out there. Since that infamous 2011 clinic, a week hasn't gone by without one or more of the clinic graduates hitting the road, in pairs, groups or solo. And the clinic's Facebook page is almost as active during the off-season as it is in the spring. Women Run Arkansas!

Whether you'd like to be a coach or one of the crazy running chicks, we can't wait to see you out there!

Cheep, cheep!