Two new running clubs meeting in Lawton are showing that Southwest Oklahoma can be a great place for people to get fit and improve their health.

Quietly gaining momentum both in their first two years, the clubs have about 300 members combined. The Lawton/Fort Sill Runners' Club has the lion's share at about 250 men and women members, and the Runhers women's club has about 50 regular participants.

Despite a fierce chilly wind, about 30 people from both clubs gathered Feb. 9 at Elmer Thomas Park to train for various upcoming races. That number, though small, was far greater than Darrin Carter's initial get-together.

"The first meeting four people showed up," said Carter, a Directorate of Capabilities Development and Integration science and technology adviser here. "But, those people must have talked to others because we had 20 the next meeting, and it's continued to grow."

Carter began the club shortly after his arrival here when he realized no running club existed.

An avid runner who has completed many half, full and ultra marathons, and an Army retiree, Carter contacted the Lawton YMCA about starting up the running club. Yolanda Allen, health and wellness director, welcomed his idea as a great complement to Y fitness programs, because their center doesn't have a running club.

"We need fitness everywhere in Lawton to combat the obesity problem we have in Oklahoma," she said.

Carter then volunteered on post teaching the first Couch to 5K running class.

"I'd like to see Lawton become a healthier community," he said. "To help that along, I teach club members helping them to learn how to run and train correctly."

Carter is certified in Newton, Chi and Natural Running techniques and draws on principles from each as he leads training sessions at the park. He also is an American Sports and Fitness Association certified trainer. Three other club members are now also certified trainers.

Best of all, the club doesn't charge a membership fee.

About the same time Carter began his club, Andrea Hadley, Comanche County Memorial Hospital (CCMH) marketing manager and her marketing team, launched the Runhers group. It is affiliated with the Oklahoma City women's running organization that advocates living healthy lifestyles. Running and walking are its two core components, according to the Runhers website,

Women runners and walkers meet monthly to hear speakers on fitness and nutrition, and learn about fitness gear or training techniques.
"We realized we needed to reach more women and offer them a club where they could run together and feel safe instead of running alone," said Hadley.

Both clubs maintain Facebook pages with information on upcoming events and meetings. Runhers charges a $20 members' fee.

Survival race
Some of those who laced up sneakers Feb. 9 took their first steps toward the annual Spirit of Survival race started by CCMH seven years ago. The race raises money for cancer research and celebrates the stories of those who beat the disease.

According to its website, the first Spirit of Survival race consisted of 325 runners and walkers. That number ballooned to 3,000 entrants in 2012.

Fitness series
Hadley said a lot of people get together in mid-summer to begin training for the race, but community leaders wanted to do more than just a once a year event.

From this vision, community leaders developed the Fitness in Action Series, to promote running, walking, biking and triathlon events in Southwest Oklahoma. The website includes information on upcoming races.

"We wanted to engage people to start and continue to exercise monthly," said Hadley. "Our goal was to have at least one event each month either in town or nearby to encourage people to get out and exercise."

Hadley said Carter is a great community supporter and thanked him for his involvement in promoting and assisting with the Spirit of Survival and other local events.

"He is definitely an asset and we appreciate all his efforts to encourage others to improve their fitness," said Hadley. "We're all just trying to work together to encourage people to be healthy."

Both clubs meet Saturdays at 8 a.m. at Elmer Thomas Park with runners and walkers participating. Runners are training for upcoming 5K races and the Oklahoma City Memorial full and half marathon races April 28.