FORT WAYNE – An estimated 10,000 runners, wearing 10,000 pair of shoes with most timing themselves with 10,000 wristwatches, will jam the downtown area Saturday for the sixth annual Fort4Fitness.
The two-day event begins Friday with the Fort4Fitness Expo and the final 1.2-mile leg of the kids marathon and the senior marathon at Parkview Field, and continues into Saturday with a 4-mile run/walk that begins at 7:30 a.m., the half marathon, starting at 8 a.m., and the 9 a.m. 10K.
Since taking its first stride in 2008, Fort4Fitness has expanded in visibility and in participation. The race was capped at 3,000 runners in 2008 and has more than tripled since then. With more runners has come more beginners, and with more beginners has come the need for more training.
That's why for most Saturday mornings during the summer, certified coach Mike Else has taken a small band of runners out for a trek around Fort Wayne.
"There is no set distance," Else says. "We've got a good idea of how far people are running, and at what speed. Then we just kinda take off. And most of the time we do an out-and-back." For the non-runner, that's going out five miles and back five miles to constitute a 10-mile jog.
"We've been meeting every Saturday for the past couple months, leading up to race day," Else says. "We meet at various parks throughout Fort Wayne at 7:30 a.m. on Saturdays. It's free of charge. It's a great opportunity for people to come together. There are all different paces and different distances. It just gives people a great opportunity to meet other runners and hopefully meet somebody around your pace and give you somebody to train with."
Because of the varying distances, the Fort4Fitness event attracts runners with different skill levels, from the half marathon veterans to the first-timers in the 4-mile run/walk.
"Getting in shape is a big motivator," Else says of why people take up the sport. "But Fort4Fitness has become such a huge event, and everyone knows about it, it's just part of being in the event now – getting to finish in the stadium. It's kind of a unique finish line that people have heard about it, probably, or they have friends who have done it in the past and they want to have that accomplishment on their mantle."
Assisting Else is Fort4Fitness board member Jon Gottschalk, who organizes the pace teams. Instead of the group being separated by ages, it is divided on how fast the runners go. Some run at a slower pace, while others go much quicker.
"For most casual people, they're going out for a jog or a short run just to make sure they feel good, or it's a stress-reliever, which is one of the main reasons why people do it," Gottschalk said.
"That doesn't take a huge amount of coaching. Anyone can do that, and many people do. When you start getting to the point where you no longer want to take it just as a casual type of activity, then the next thing you have is, OK, what is it I have to do to actually take it to the next level?" he said.
And it's at the next level where Else is rewarded.
"That's why I coach," says Else, who has been certified since 2005. "It's the greatest satisfaction I get.
"I want feedback and see how they did in the race. A lot of people either see me at the race or come into the store (Three Rivers Running Co.) later, or they'll send me an email. That's the part of coaching that I like, to get that feedback and know that they improved or they reached their goal, whatever that might be."
Flash from the past: 2012 Fort4Fitness (It might take a little while to load because we've changed our format since last year's race.)