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BLOOMINGTON — A year ago, Laura and Matt Brauman were 40-something runners looking for a new challenge.

Now, the Fairbury couple — busy parents who are both employed out of the home — has competed in several triathlons (swimming, biking, running) and completed a Half Ironman (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run).

"When we went in, we went in big," Laura, 42, said with a laugh.

But the Brauman's story is significant for anyone who wants to start an exercise program — or take exercising to the next level — to combat mid-winter doldrums.

That's because, five years ago, the Braumans were sedentary.

"I wasn't very fit," Laura admitted last week.

"But you don't have to be good at something to get out there and do it and enjoy it," Laura observed. "Starting is the hard part. The running and triathlon community is incredibly supportive."

It's timely advice.

"The end of January and early February is when enthusiasm for (fitness) goals is tempered by the demands of daily life," said Robyn Walter of the Lake Run Club. "Interest remains high but the demands of the kids and work — along with the crummy weather — take hold."

"What I know as a 24-year professional (performance coach) helping people to grow and change is that environment and barriers matter," said Kevin McCarthy, who does multi-sport coaching with Normal-based Path Performance.

So it's not surprising that busy lives plus bad winter weather equal exercise programs going awry this time of year in Central Illinois, he said.

Enter into this darkness three programs that coach people back into fitness — or to the next level of fitness — from winter through spring. They are:

  • Lake Run Club's Catch the Wave, a 10-week training program designed to help beginning runners learn the basics of running and better fitness, with an eye toward preparing them for the 4.37-mile Lake Run at Lake Bloomington on May 2.
  • Lake Run Club's Ride the Wave, an 11-week training program for people who are able to run three miles without stopping but who want to run longer and faster.
  • Tri-Shark Triathlon Club's Pups program, a 12-week training program designed for runners or bikers or swimmers who want to learn all three sports to compete in the Tri-Shark Triathlon (600-yard swim, 13-mile bike ride, 3.1-mile run) at Comlara Park on June 6.

"These programs address the environmental barriers," said McCarthy, co-program director of Tri-Pups and a member of Tri-Sharks and Lake Run Club.

"The people are mentored and supported," he said. "The programs provide knowledge, accountability and support and those three things keep people on task and keep them coming back. That's how we can do this stuff in Central Illinois when it's crappy outside."

"Running year ’round can be satisfying and enjoyable and running with others helps people to get through when it's gray and cold," said Walter, Ride the Wave director.

"Rather than starting over in the spring — and losing three to five months, which can have a compromising effect on one's health — I urge people to run through winter," Walter said. You'll maintain your health, expand your social group and enjoy the better weather when it arrives in spring, she said.

Matt Brauman, 43, is manager of Hoffman Tool in Fairbury and Laura is district manager with Barnes & Noble. They have three sons, ages 10 through 19.

Laura started running five years ago and Matt started a year later.

"I was 240 to 245 pounds," Matt admitted. "I wasn't happy with my weight and my health. For me, I started running to kick-start my weight loss."

They enjoyed running but decided they were ready for a new challenge when they heard about Tri-Pups, Matt said.

"We didn't know how to do a triathlon, how it would work logistically, such as transitioning from swim to bike to run," Laura said. "Tri-Pups is a good program to figure it out."

The 12-week Tri-Pups program includes classroom instruction on topics such as goal-setting, swim-bike-run training, nutrition, clothing and basic bike maintenance, as well as indoor and outdoor group bike and run sessions, McCarthy said. Each participant is given a training program and is assigned a mentor.

Among mentors is Scott Richardson, 63, of Normal, who weighed close to 400 pounds 10 years ago, participated in Tri-Pups in 2009 and has completed two Ironman races.

"After so many positive changes happened in my life, when I reached retirement age, I decided to give something back to the sport and the people who helped me so much," said Richardson, who retired three years ago as outdoors editor of The Pantagraph. "I want to help people to live better and to have a healthier lifestyle."

Tri-Pups helped the Braumans improve their swimming.

"Swimming in open water with other people is scary at first," Matt admitted. "Arms and legs are everywhere and people get kicked but you have to get used to it."

What helped during training is everyone was supportive, Laura said. "I felt well-prepared on race day."

Laura completed the May 31 Tri-Shark triathlon in one hour, 49 minutes, 40 seconds. Matt completed the course in one hour, 31 minutes, 48 seconds.

But they enjoyed the challenge, the fitness and the camaraderie so much that they did three more triathlons last year, followed by a Half Ironman in September. Matt got down to 180 pounds, which he has maintained, and he and Laura continue to train.

They treat training and race days as opportunities to spend time together. "It's something we do as a couple," Laura said. "We enjoy it."

And on those cold winter nights when one of them doesn't feel like going out, the other person is there to provide encouragement.

"If it's icy, I don't run outside that day, but other than that, you can bundle up and it's not as bad as you think," Laura said. "There are things you can do to adapt to just about any change in weather.

"I've never gotten back from a workout and wished that I hadn't gone out that day," she said.

"Any these programs (Tri-Pups, Catch the Wave, Ride the Wave) is a time commitment, but they can be life-changing," Matt said.

What would Richardson tell people who say they can't do any of the programs?

"I once weighed close to 400 pounds," he said. "In January 2005, I started to ride a bike to lose weight. Now I have done several triathlons, including two Ironman (races). You can do far more than you think you can."

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Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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