By ANGIE HAFLICH
There is an extremely contagious bug going around southwest Kansas — running.
Dan Knight, Holcomb, thought he was immune.
"I hated it at first. I mean, I thought running a quarter of a mile was long distance, but then I got hooked. It's very addicting," Knight said.
Knight, who is the director of the Holcomb Recreation Commission, caught the bug about four years ago and has been running in 5Ks and 10Ks ever since.
"I think one of the neatest things is being around the people, the running community — people are just so supportive. You go to a race, and everybody's there with their own goals in mind, but they're also there for each other. And people who finish first will be standing at the line cheering on the ones who come in last," he said. "I think a lot of people, they may be intimidated to go to a run at first, but once they go and they see the atmosphere, it changes their minds about it."
South West Fun Time Runners, SWFTR (pronounced swifter), is an area running organization that encompasses southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle, and southeast Colorado. The organization's website, www.swftr.com, and Facebook page has a calendar of upcoming 5K runs. Knight also has created a Facebook page for area runners called 4F and Running Friends is a Facebook group that was created for women, who encourage and motivate one another to keep moving, whether it's running or walking.
Knight is 61 years old and said there are a number of people his age who just recently have taken up the sport.
"It's really never too late," he said. "We've had several, like myself, who have gotten into it later in life and have amazed themselves at what they are able to do."
Gina Gigot, 50, Holcomb, echoed Knight's sentiment about it never being too late. She began running in 2011, after she quit smoking.
That same year, after training with Knight, she participated in her first 5K, the Holcomb Recreation Commission's Longhorn Stampede. Since then, she has participated in several 5Ks, five half-marathons, and last Sunday, she participated in her first-ever full marathon.
In preparing for the marathon, Gigot, along with fellow runner Tracy Johnson, also of Holcomb, began an 18-week training program in which they gradually added more distance to their runs.
"Thanks to Tracy, we made it in 4:58:10, so our goal was reached for our first marathon," Gigot said. "We had a lot of fun and enjoyed ourselves — soaked up each mile."
Running in the Prairie Fire Marathon was also a first for Vince Koons, 46, Meade.
"Having never run one before, I was excited, No. 1 to finish, and No. 2 to run as well I did. My time was a pinch over four minutes — 4:01:20," Koons said."
Koons ran on his cross country team in high school, but didn't start running again until about four years ago. He and his daughter, Amber Koons, 18, run for Team Beef, a collection of runners across the state that enjoy the physical fitness aspect of running and who also enjoy promoting beef.
Koons' oldest son, Ryan Koons, 15, also runs on the cross country team and participates in fun runs with his dad. His youngest son, 7-year-old Walker, also participated in the kids' version of the marathon, proving that it's also never too early to begin running.
"They kept a log of 25 miles over 25 days, and then, as a group, there were 50 to 55 kids who ran their final 1.1 mile in Wichita, so it culminated as 26.2 miles," Koons said. "He was really excited, even just training for it."
Christopher Nemecheck, 13, Holcomb, has been running in 5Ks since he was 10, about the same time his sister, 16-year-old Courtney Nemecheck, signed up for her first 5K.
"When they started running their first 5K, I just wanted to go run with them. I guess that just kind of started it," Christopher said. "I just like getting out there and going."
Christopher regularly trains with Brian Watkins, who is a personal trainer at the Holcomb Recreation Commission and Deerfield High School's cross country coach. Watkins said that much of being successful at running has to do more with strength than form.
"A lot of people think that running is all about form, but once you get into it and research it, form has little to do with performance. Strengthening the right areas is a lot more important than worrying about looking like a gazelle," he said, and then laughed.
Courtney is also a member of the Holcomb High School cross country team.
"It's the only thing that I'm good at," she said, laughing. "I guess you could say I love it."
She said running helps her self-confidence and that it is a great stress reliever.
"You can just go out there and forget about everything. Everything else fades away," she said.
Jordan Jarnagin, 15, is also on the HHS cross country team and said that she enjoys being around other runners.
"We're all like a family. It's always a positive atmosphere. It's a lot of fun," she said, adding that she also likes the mental aspect of it. "It's a very mental sport, and I like that a lot. It helps you not just in running but in other life stuff."
For both the Nemechek and Jarnagin families, running is a family affair. Chris and Courtney's dad, Curt Nemechek, is a runner, and the three sometimes run together, Courtney said. Jarnagin's older brother, JaCee Jarnagin, runs for the University of Miami's cross country team.