CHARLESTON, W.Va. - You know those "couch to 5K" phone apps and websites that promise to help train you for a run?
Kristy James tried them.
"I tried that five times at least," she said. "I never got through the fifth week."
That's the week where you're expected to run 20 minutes without stopping and James just found it too darn daunting.
On July 4, James not only ran 3.1 miles, she did it in a competitive event, an Independence Day run in Charleston held on a steamy hot Friday evening.
"I'm just shocked I was able to finish," she said.
The difference this time for the 42-year-old St. Albans resident is that instead of relying on a phone app and training on her own, she signed up for Matt Young's Genesis 5K Training Program. Starting in April and every Tuesday night for 10 weeks, she met nearly 100 fellow non-runners who wanted to learn to run.
They came in all shapes, sizes and ages and like James, were looking for some help in achieving an elusive goal.
James said Young coached the group along, promising they'd be ready for the 5K in July.
"He's the most encouraging person on the planet," she said. As race day approached and she hadn't actually run a full 3.1 miles without stopping, James worried.
"Matt kept saying wonderful things happen on race day. And lo and behold, I finished it. I just trusted him," she said. "Every step we would take he would say, 'This program works.'"
"The big milestone is a 20-minute run we do at Week 5. Every time before, I would just skip that because I was nervous about that. This time, I took a step on faith."
James is now part of Young's second run training session of the year, this time with nearly 90 people signed up. She's looking forward to two upcoming 5K races, including the Charleston Distance Run's 5K on Aug. 31.
And she has more athletic aspirations.
"Actually, I've shocked myself. I told my husband the other night my goal for next year might be a half-marathon," she said. "I'm definitely planning to set a higher goal. I firmly believe if you set your mind on something, you can do it."
Young, 38, said his Genesis program is really a labor of love and he credits his dad with the idea.
He began running and training for triathlons after college, when he was working as a financial planner and realized his life had become sedentary and unhealthy.
His results were vastly improved after he joined a training group.
"What I found out about myself was how much better I did when I had structure. When I had a plan, I would follow it," he said.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2006. Young, his brother and sister ran the Independence Day 5K. Afterward his dad, then 68, wondered aloud if he could train for one leg of the Charleston Distance Run's 15-mile relay.
"In my mind, I'm thinking, 'No way,'" Young recalled. His dad had run in the past but had quit when he had some knee issues. But Young did some research and agreed to mentor his dad on a couch to 5K program.
Nine weeks later, his dad successfully completed his leg of the race and Young realized, "I think we're on to something here." If it worked for his dad, it could work for others.
The next year, Young took a group at his church, Perrow Presbyterian in Cross Lanes, under his wings.
"And I saw it work for another group of people," he said. In 2009, he became a certified coach with the Road Runner Club of America and he hung out his shingle, so to speak, as a coach.