every runner has a story

Meet Kathy French

Kathy French took advantage of the variety of training programs offered by the LRC, which gave her the tools to be a confident runner. Initially running for fitness, Kathy’s perspective shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic when she joined the Spring Ahead 5K training group with Betsy Slay. Through this and other LRC programs, she learned the science of running and found a supportive community.

Kathy French, a Polk County native, never imagined herself as a runner. Her initial foray into running was purely for fitness, a small part of her overall workout routine. “I did not like running at all and only did it because it was part of my overall fitness,” she admits. It wasn’t until 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down gyms, that running became a more significant part of her life.

With gyms closed, running became the most accessible form of exercise. Kathy had already signed up for the Spring Ahead 5K training group with Betsy Slay, and despite the postponement, she committed to the plan. This structured approach was a revelation. “Until then, I was trying to run my hardest every time. No wonder I disliked it so much,” she reflects. The training plan taught her the science behind running and introduced her to a supportive community. “The main reason I kept doing it and still keep doing it is the people. I have made some wonderful friends.”

Kathy’s journey with the Lakeland Runners Club (LRC) began as a race participant. Her first LRC race was the August 2016 Watermelon 5K, which she recalls as a challenging experience. “I couldn’t run the full distance and I was miserable, but my friend Nicole encouraged me to continue to throw myself into every local race that I could.” This perseverance led her to the Aching Quad Challenge that same year, where she fondly remembers Dave Quarles’ encouraging smile and words as he passed her.

Her involvement with the LRC deepened as she participated in more races and eventually started volunteering. “I participated in the 5K training group a few times and met some great people. Some of them were already volunteering, and so I decided to do the same,” she says. Her favorite LRC race is the Lake-to-Lake 10K, which offers a beautiful route and allows her to find a good pace.

Running has had a profound impact on Kathy’s life. It has tested her limits both physically and mentally and brought lifelong friends into her life. She appreciates the structured training plans provided by coaches like Betsy Slay and Sarah Kozul. “The Spring Ahead 5K Training with Betsy Slay was my first experience with a structured training plan. I had no idea what I was doing. If it were not for this program, who knows what I would be doing today,” she says. This year, she even signed up for a 15K and a Half Marathon on the same weekend, thanks to a longer distance plan added by Coach Sarah.

Kathy has been fortunate to avoid major injuries or setbacks, a fact she attributes to the excellent advice in her training plans. Her favorite distance is the 10K, which she finds to be just the right length to enjoy the run. Her biggest victory is completing the Gasparilla Distance Gold Challenge, which involved running a 15K on Saturday and a Half Marathon on Sunday. “My absolute favorite thing about running is the people. I have met the most wonderful and supportive people,” she shares.

Not all running experiences have been positive. Kathy recalls a Mean & Green 5-mile race at Holloway Park where she started too fast and struggled to keep up with a faster group. “Around mile 3, I started to realize how badly I felt and slowed my pace, but I still felt awful after I finished,” she remembers. This experience taught her the importance of pacing herself.

When she’s not running, Kathy’s schedule is filled with family and friends. She advises new runners to “trust the science and the process” and not to compare themselves to others. Looking ahead, Kathy aims to maintain her mileage and improve her times, continuing to build on the solid foundation she has established over the past few years.

Kathy currently serves on the LRC Board of Directors and volunteers with club training programs and races.

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