Tyler Lamb confesses he was a little taken aback by the requirements for the marathon training class at Lee University.
"Honestly, when I signed up for the class, I wasn't thinking, and I didn't realize I was going to have to run a half-marathon," said Lamb, a 21-year-old Lee senior. "If I had known that, I probably wouldn't have signed up for the class."
Lamb is one of 29 students enrolled in the one-credit course. The first incarnation of the class, three years ago, had a dozen students. This Saturday, all 29 enrollees will travel to Nashville to compete in the Country Music Marathon (or half-marathon), which is a requirement to pass the course.
Dr. William Estes, chair of the school's department of Health, Exercise Science & Secondary Education, said he was motivated to create the class after he noticed a sizable running community developing in Cleveland, Tenn. Every year, the university takes any employee who wants to run the Nashville event as part of the university wellness program.
The course, Estes said, attracts people with a range of running experience.
"We get cross-country runners," he said, ... [and] we get people who have never run [distances] before."
Lamb said that before the class he had never run more than five miles. The ability to run a 5K (3.1 miles) in 30 minutes or less is a requirement.
Lamb said he wanted to take up running to get into shape. His father and his fiancée are both runners, he said, and will be running the half-marathon with him on Saturday.
Ashley Matthews is one of the more experienced runners of the class. A member of the Lee track team, Matthews has been running for seven years. She'll run the half on Saturday but will take on her first full marathon at the end of May. She'd like to finish in 6:40 but tendinitis is slowing her down a bit. Now, she said, "we're thinking about just running at a 7:30 pace and taking it easy."
Taking it easy is hard on Matthews, who wants to be consistently improving her time and distance. She said she's had several 20-mile runs.
The students meet each Saturday for a long run and are expected to run at least four times a week, getting up to 25 miles a week before the race, said Donald Jayroe, who teaches the course and coaches the Lee track-and-field team. For the most part, Jayroe said, the class can be compared to an independent study.
Students email once a week to log their training journal. Jayroe answers questions and guides them along. A student who trains appropriately should be able to complete the half-marathon, though some might have to walk a bit, he said.
"And that's OK," Jayroe said, "as long as they are trying at the level where they are, I still give them a good grade."
Lamb said the most challenging part of the training has been being consistently disciplined to increase his mileage.
"I try to at least add a mile each week," he said.
Running, he said, has also helped to improve his physical and mental health, once he was able to overcome the barrier of feeling that it was, well, a bit of a drag.
"I've never been someone who really likes running," he said. "It's never been something I've enjoyed, but I've actually learned to enjoy it, because I've realized that if I run I feel better the next day."
Estes said Saturday group runs, and having built-in running buddies, helps to encourage students to stay consistent in their training and increase their speed and mileage.
"Part of the class is to put the kids together to mentally break those barriers," he said.
Matthews said training as part of the class has allowed her to learn about her body and its limitations. She said she overtrained during one stretch, leading to pain and exhaustion.
"That next week, I was dead," she said. "It was like I had a different body. After that I had a solid month of horrible workouts. It was excruciating."
But now, Matthews said, she is back on track, so to speak, and looking forward to competing on Saturday.
Lamb said he expects to continue running, though he doubts he'll ever run another half-marathon after this weekend. Despite his initial trepidation, however, he is eager to finish those 13.1 miles.
"I've made it this far," he said. "Why not go ahead and achieve the big goal and cross the finish line?"