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One step at a time

When Lisa Ashe signed up for the newly formed Jeff Galloway running group in Jackson County last year, her dream to complete her first marathon in six months was more than a fitness goal or lifetime dream.

She was shooting for the 2005 Disney Marathon in January — which would fall on the anniversary of a near fatal car accident she was in seven years earlier. She was pregnant with her first child during the crash.

“We were not expected to live, either one of us,” Ashe said. “To make that kind of come back to the point that seven years later I could run a marathon was amazing.”

And watching Ashe run by from the side-lines that year was her son, six years old by then, cheering her on. Ashe had always been athletic, but when she joined the Jeff Galloway running group in August hoping to run a marathon barely six months away, she was skeptical she could meet the milestone.

“I thought there is no way I will ever be able to do this, but voila, within six months I was running my first marathon,” said Ashe, who is a counselor with the North Carolina Independent Living Rehabilitation Program in Sylva.

The local Jeff Galloway running club follows a nationally recognized training method for beginner athletes and runners with a goal of finishing a marathon or half-marathon. The Galloway method incorporates regular, timed walk breaks into each run — walk breaks that start long and plentiful and get shorter and fewer as the runner progresses in the program. In six months to a year, a runner has built up the stamina to run a marathon — perhaps not quickly and perhaps not without a healthy dose of walking — but a marathon nonetheless.

The real secret to the Galloway method appears to be the commraderie.

“It is a social group brought together by running,” said Jenifer Pressley, a runner and also the wellness and fitness coordinator for the Jackson County Recreation Department. “I have made fantastic friends from the group. It is just like a big family. You are out there for an hour or two hours and you really get to know each other.”

Nancy Pressley of Glenville described herself as anything but a runner. But her daughter, Jenifer, convinced her to join up with the goal of simply walking a half-marathon.

“I was afraid I would be looked down on as only a walker,” said Nancy Pressley, who works at ConMet. “I couldn’t possibly have been more wrong. I was accepted not only with open arms but true affection. This group is so incredibly supportive, but not pushy in any way.”

Pressley said she actually looks forward to getting up at 5:30 on Saturday mornings to make the drive down the mountain to Cullowhee from Glenville.

Pressley walked in the 2005 Country Music Marathon in Nashville. Now she’s hooked and is aiming for the Disney Half-Marathon in January.

The Jeff Galloway group started in Jackson County last year. Led by Amy Palmer, a local resident, and with the backing of the Jackson County Recreation Department, it has been a huge success. Many of the runners have stayed with the group well after their goal of finishing a marathon.

“Our retention has been huge,” Jenifer Pressley. “We’ve taken on new people but the old ones have stayed with the group which is great. We’ve had so many people who run their first, second and just keep on going.”

The group meets for a run every Saturday morning. As levels and speeds vary, runners form subgroups known as pace groups to run each week.

“There is nobody on this earth that cannot succeed in this program,” Ashe said. “It looks at your individual needs. Amy, our director, will put you on a schedule that will work with you based on what your goal is.”

The group welcomes new members of any level with open arms. Palmer said there is a pace group to fit anyone’s level and training schedule. For more information, call the director Amy Palmer at 828.293.0011.

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