By SHELLY WILKISON
On a cold and blustery evening, the faithful arrived at Lions Foundation Park determined to stay the course.
Earlier this fall, they made a commitment to themselves and to each other to don the yellow t-shirts and take a walk or run at least once each week.
Now in its fifth year, the Liberty Hill Run Club is bringing the community together on the walking trail as part of an effort to encourage fitness and a healthy lifestyle.
Coaches Lisa Harlow and Mike Bowles meet walkers and runners at 5:30 p.m. every Tuesday at the park. This fall, about 20 walkers and runners participate each week.
“This is free and open to everyone of all ages and all abilities,” said Mrs. Harlow, adding that dogs are welcome, too.
Pastor Randall Hilburn of Liberty Hill United Methodist Church came up with the idea five years ago to start a community run club as another outreach ministry of the church, Mrs. Harlow said. However, the club is open to everyone and church or religious affiliation is not important.
“We start every meeting with a short prayer, but that’s it,” said Mrs. Harlow. “Then we hit the trail.”
Mrs. Harlow, owner of Flying H Fitness in Liberty Hill, said Pastor Hilburn approached her with the idea of organizing a run club.
“It was about the community,” she said. “He came to me because I’m passionate about fitness and I own a gym.”
Mrs. Harlow has been a driving force behind the club. She grew up in an active household, daughter of a coach and a volunteer in the recreation center in her hometown in Illinois.
She taught school 10 years, working out at a nearby gym before and after school. Some 24 years ago, she participated in after-school aerobics at Liberty Hill Elementary School. When the volunteer instructor left, Mrs. Harlow, who had become certified in fitness training, took over the class.
She said when she first became certified, she had no intention of ever teaching fitness classes. She just wanted to learn more about how to stay fit.
“I just have a love for fitness and exercise,” she said. “I guess you could say I’m a fitness nut.”
As the after-school class continued to grow and Mrs. Harlow hauled fitness equipment back and forth from her house to the elementary school, it seemed to make better sense to open a gym. At the time, her husband was building a shop for his electrical business and the gym was built adjacent to that. She invested in special flooring customized for exercise and dance, which made those activities safer.
Since 2000, the business has continued to grow adding various workout equipment to meet the fitness needs of clients. Mrs. Harlow has become more of a personal trainer in recent years, and also teaches Pilates and gentle exercise to small groups.
It’s the motivation and encouragement that she brings to the club that makes participants want to keep coming back and meet their goals.
“I met Lisa and the rest of the running group when I registered to run another race in Liberty Hill in 2009,” said George Hudgins, a member of the club and owner of Hudgins Oil. “After the race, Lisa invited me back to check out the running club. I came back and was impressed with the dedication she has with running, walking and just general physical exercise.”
Hudgins, a competitive runner participates in 5K runs and marathons, said he enjoys being part of the Liberty Hill Run Club.
“Originally, I started running to improve my health, only to find that there is so much more to gain than just good health,” he said. “I have made so many new friends and it has given me a whole new outlook on life.”
Hudgins said the run club allows individiausl to set their own goals and achieve them at their own pace.
“I believe that’s why everyone feels comfortable with each other,” he added. “If you’re training to run a marathon or just looking to get in a good walk for the evening, this is the place to be.”
One of the goals of the run club is to prepare its participants for the Jingle Bell 5K & 1K Fun Run/Walk that coincides with the Liberty Hill Christmas Festival — scheduled Dec. 8 — and the Thrill of the Hill 5K Run hosted by the Lions Club in the spring. The Club meets for 12 weeks prior to each event.
Rogue Running of Cedar Park is the club’s running sponsor. Each week, a representative of the business comes to the trail and provides running and walking tips, including information about proper footwear.
Although the Run Club has been gearing up for the Jingle Bell Run/Walk, which is three weeks away, Mrs. Harlow said it is never too late to join the group. There is also plenty of time to sign up for the Jingle Bell Run.
The Run is an annual fundraiser hosted by the Methodist Church — proceeds of which benefit community charities, such as Operation Liberty Hill and others.
The Jingle Bell Run/Walk leads the Liberty Hill Christmas Parade through downtown. On Dec. 8, runners and walkers will meet about 1:30 p.m. at the elementary school and the 5K run/walk begins at 2 p.m.
To register for the Jingle Bell 5K & 1K Fun Run/Walk, go to www.lhumctx.org. Register by Nov. 30 and pay $25. After that, the entry fee is $30.