RED WING, Minn. — The opportunity to earn extra vacation time from work was something Julie Eckstrom did not want to miss out. As incentive for their employees to incorporate more wellness into their lives, Eckstrom’s employer, First Farmers and Merchants Bank, grant their employees an additional half day of vacation for participating in a 5K event. “I couldn’t even run a block, but I was determined to run a 5K by the end of the summer to be eligible for the extra vacation time, and before I get too old to do it,” says Eckstrom.
Eckstrom had always tried to stay physically active and had even participated in two 5K events, but always as a walker/runner, never a runner. In the spring of 2015, Eckstrom learned about the upcoming River City Ramble 5K event, but particularly took a closer look at the Get Ready to Ramble program that was offered to its participants prior to the event.
The free 9-week program is designed to help prepare individuals for a 5K walk/run or a 2-mile walk and incorporate physical activity into everyday life. “I felt like this program was calling my name,” says Eckstrom. “It was the perfect opportunity for me to start out slow and work my way up to running a full 5K, all with the added bonus of having a support system by my side.”
Eckstrom attended the kick-off event and immediately felt inspired by the message the trainers shared with the group. “I felt like they were personally committed to helping me achieve my goal, “says Eckstrom. Eckstrom, 53, has been living with fibromyalgia for 28 years. “Of course I had my doubts about participating in the program because of my age and my chronic condition, but I’ve learned over time the more I move, the better I feel,” she says. Within weeks of starting the program, Eckstrom was not only feeling better, but she was sleeping better and had more energy throughout the day.
“One of the first things the trainers taught me was that I was already capable of running; I just needed to learn how to manage my breathing and work through the challenging times,” says Eckstrom. “My trainers were my biggest cheerleaders, but also knew when to test my limits.”
In addition to meeting with the trainers once a week, Eckstrom started running on her own. Occasionally, her husband would drop her off a couple miles from home and she would run home, or she would find time to run on the treadmill. “I’ve decided I have a love-hate relationship with running. It may be torture to get through a run, but when it’s over I feel so accomplished,” says Eckstrom.
The day of the race Eckstrom admits to being nervous, but once she found her groove she became very comfortable and confident. “I had set a personal goal for completing the race in less than 30 minutes, and I did it.”
A year later, Eckstrom is still trying to keep up with her running. “I now consider myself a runner, and thank the amazing training team for their encouragement and inspiration,” says Eckstrom. “I never would have been able to do it without their support.”