Christina Lapsley decided in January 2014 that she was going to start taking better care of herself.
She put her fitness goals into the hands of Megan Nelson, Checkers Athletic Club coach of the Zero to 5K program.
She didn’t know what she was in for.
“I was scared out of my mind,” Lapsley said. “We ran outside. I remember our first session. It was 15 degrees at Delaware Park. Her rules were we will only cancel if it is negative 20 windchill and less than 5 degrees. So we learned to run in the freezing cold.
“It was never easy, but when you were done you felt really accomplished. From there, I caught that running bug.”
Lapsley, of Tonawanda, Nelson, of North Buffalo, and I talked Tuesday, as we sat under a warm evening sun at a picnic table alongside the track at Williamsville South High School, where Nelson will teach much of the next 10-week Checkers Zero to 5K program.
Classes start at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Parker track at Adams Field, Town of Tonawanda – so participants don’t have to deal with traffic associated with the start of Williamsville Old Home Days – and will return to South High the Tuesday afterward.
Classes will continue at the same time each week on the Williamsville High School track, and culminate Sept. 12 with the 5K Scrub Run for Mercy Hospital. Lapsley, subject of today’s Healthy Response story in WNY Refresh, will help organize that race, to benefit a new cardiac unit at the hospital, in her role as special events coordinator for the Foundations of Catholic Health.
Those who join Checkers running club, at checkersac.org, can participate in the Zero to 5K program as part of the membership. An annual membership costs $25 for students, $35 for an individual, $45 for a couple and $50 for a family. Email Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to participate.
Lapsley said membership has been well worth the cost. It allows her to step away from her busy life one night a week – she and her husband Steve, an Army veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, have two children, a daughter Sophia, 4, and son, Emerson, 1 – and get in part of a needed fitness routine that now includes three bouts of running every week.
“The nice thing about running in Western New York, you get to see and experience this area in all seasons and you get to see all the hidden treasures that we have when it comes to different races,” she said. “You can also run with all sorts of great people.”
She counts Nelson among them.
Both women are in their early 30s and both were looking to lose weight and feel better when they found Checkers.
Nelson joined seven years – and 90 pounds – ago.
“It took me two years to lose the weight,” she said. “I started when I was 26. I had a membership to the BAC which was about to expire and I thought, ‘Let’s start going again.’ I hadn’t been to the gym in a year and a half. I met Sharon Ostrander, who lives in Charlotte now. Everyone always says, ‘Let’s try spinning.’ She was a spinning instructor and walked me into a class, sat me down on a bike and said, ‘Have at it.’ I hated it. I started going every day because I hated it so much. That’s how my head works.”
A combination of gym training and running started to melt away the pounds.
But that’s not all.
“The key is eating,” Nelson said. “My ex-husband and I started going to Weight Watchers. We didn’t go to meetings – we didn’t need that kind of support – but we counted points (calories) on our own.”
Nelson works full-time on the midnight shift as a medical technician at Sisters of Charity Hospital and teaches a pair of group personal training sessions at the BAC for Women. She’s head coach of the Girls on the Run team at Elmwood Franklin School. She also practices yoga.
“At the BAC,” she said, “people will come twice a week for an hour and I kick their butt and they don’t always see results – and it’s all because their food doesn’t change. They still drink pop and frapachinos and they still eat potato chips. The key to losing weight is really in the diet.
“I started doing everything all at once. Some people start working out for six or eight months and then their food choices start changing, because you feel better the more healthy you eat. You have to fuel your body.
"It clicked for me, and I started losing 6 to 8 pounds every 10 to 12 weeks.”
She continues to eat more vegetables than meats and has cut her portion sizes.
“One of my favorite cereals is Cocoa Pebbles, so I would still eat that but measure out a serving size and a serving of milk,” she said. “It wasn’t a huge bowl with half a box of cereal. It was three-quarters of a cup. You still eat what you want – enjoy the foods you love – but eat smaller portions. Instead of eating an extra large sundae at Anderson’s, I’d order a baby cone. That satisfies you just as much.”
Nelson also drinks lots of water – “It fills you up,” she said – and salads sprinkled with vinaigrette dressing, not loaded down “with 10 pounds of ranch dressing.”
Running, personal training and her diet continue to allow her to maintain a healthy weight, Nelson said.
Here’s what she said about her noncompetitive running program, which she will teach with Vicki Mitchell, the lead Checkers running coach and University at Buffalo track coach:
“It isn’t about running a 5K in 20 minutes, it’s about finishing a 5K,” she said. “You’re looking for a baseline, then to improve times, so you can improve without injury. We’ll go from a 10-minute run-walk at the start of the program to a 45-minute run-walk by the end.”
Those who attend will learn to run and stretch in the most effective way possible. Along with Tuesday evening track training, participants will be directed to go out for another short run during a weekday and a longer run during the weekend, building distance as they go. Nelson will share emails among participants in case pairs or small groups want to gather for those runs.
She also will encourage folks to ride a bike at least once a week to get in some cross-training.
Nelson has coached aspiring runners from age 7 into their late 60s, of both sexes and all shapes and sizes. Class sizes have ranged from four to 72 people; more than 50 have signed up for the upcoming class – and more are welcome.
The experience means more to her than many of her students know.
“Since I started running, and coming here, all of these people have become my family,” she said. “Tom Donnelly was my health-care proxy after I got divorce. Greg Lavis, who became president of the club after Tom passed away, he’s my proxy now. They’ve been like my dads.
“Anything I can do to help this club, I’ll do it. It’s become more than a club to me, and it has for a lot of people.”
Lapsley is becoming a kindred spirit – and thanked her husband for the time she gets to spend away from her kids one evening a week for track class. She also runs on her own at least two mornings a week, generally before her kids get up.
Her running life not only started in the bitter cold, it also started slowly.
“Just like anything, you have to learn what you’re doing,” Lapsley said. “You have to learn how to breathe. You have to learn how to hold your body correctly so you’re not hurting yourself. You have to learn how to eat right. It was hard. It’s still hard. I think that’s why I keep doing it.”
Thanks to Nelson and other Checkers members, she has learned a lot in a year and a half – and completed several 5Ks, a 10-mile race last Valentine’s Day and the Buffalo Half Marathon in May.
She said taking the Zero to 5K again this summer will continue to keep her on track.
“Everything I thought I was doing right, I wasn’t living as healthy as I could have,” she said. “Even though I thought I was eating better and moving enough, I really wasn’t.
“Running has improved my mood, for sure. It gives you those healthy endorphins. It’s made me want to learn about the better foods to put in your body so you could maintain your energy. I’m definitely less tired during the day. I have more energy to run around with my kids at night and on the weekends. It’s definitely made me happier. And, as my kids get older, I can teach them how to be healthy and have fun. I can pass it down. That’s really important.
“Aside from running, I’m in the kitchen trying to teach my kids about healthy snacking and trying to put the right foods in your body. Five years ago, I would have never shopped at farmers markets or brought avocados into the house. The kids love it.”