Ken Allen had never done a race of any kind before he signed up for the Holiday 5K, hosted by the Robertson County YMCA. At 66 years old, he and his wife Brenda wanted to become more active to keep up with their eight grandchildren.

Finding a program to keep him on track

The year before, Brenda had trained for the race through the Couch to 5K program, designed to get new runners off the couch and all the way to the finish line. Brenda loved her time with the group, led by well-known Robertson County Y staff member, David "Gooch" Francis. Fueled by his own health and weight loss journey, Gooch has spearheaded the group for several years.

When Ken joined Couch to 5K with Brenda he had few expectations. "I really didn't have any other goals than just getting to feel better," Ken says. "In fact, I think when we first started, I didn't even have any intention of running the race."

The group ran in Springfield, Tennessee, and trained through an app on each runner's phone. Each week, the program built on itself and encouraged participants to run a little bit longer than the previous week. Ken noticed his endurance increasing. He and Brenda motivated each other, encouraging one another to get out of bed and exercise on days when it seemed tough. Before long, Ken says the running was just a small reason of why he kept training.

Finding a community

YMCA of Middle TN
Ken (left) in his winning costume

"At first, I just wanted to get out [and exercise]," he says, "and it became such a community-type thing. I missed not going, you know, if we had to miss for some reason. It was wonderful and a lot of fun."

Ken connected with folks he'd seen around in the community—and some of his fellow Couch to 5K runners went to the same church as he and Brenda. "We'd just come back into the church at the same time [as starting to train] so we didn't really know a lot of people. And then, as we got to know them in our Couch to 5K group, we found out that we're going to the same services together and closer friendships started to form."

One of Ken's favorite aspects of the group was that the more experienced runners made sure no one was left behind. "You have all of these people that are pulling for you," he says. "A lot of times when you go to a gym, you feel like everybody's watching and you're not as good as what they are. In the Couch the 5K program, it's not that way. It's designed to get everybody from point A to point B. It doesn't matter how long it takes you, or what your style is or what clothes you wear. I would just encourage everybody to just get out there and go."

Tackling the race

By race day, Ken felt more prepared for the challenge. "It was the hardest thing I'd ever done," he says. "But by the time we finished our training, the race seemed inconsequential. It was a great thing to do, but all the stuff we did before that—training together, motivating each other, building friendships—was the most valuable part."

It may have been tough, but Ken scored fourth place in his age group. He also won the costume contest in a full-body reindeer suit.

While Ken doesn't feel compelled to tackle another race anytime soon, he is more confident in exercising and staying healthy. "We all need to be more active than we are," he says. "It just takes a little motivation or push to get you up off the couch. Put in the effort."

The Holiday 5K/10K and Kids Fun Run 1K hosted by the Robertson County Family YMCA is on Saturday, Nov. 23. Register to join the fun (including a costume contest!) here.