On the run: Oak Parker Holly Porter has helped runners achieve personal best times.

On Wednesday evenings from spring through early fall, a group of about 25 runners has been doing speed training on the Concordia University track, under the guidance of Holly Porter. She and her runners are members of the Oak Park Runners Club, and the program has shown good results, with many of her runners setting new personal records during the current season.

Porter was originally from tiny Monroeville, Ind., and graduated from Columbia City High School near Fort Wayne. She ran well in high school, qualifying for the state meet in the 800 and 1600 meters, but never placed at state, and went to a college without track or cross-country programs (Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute). So running was not a priority.

After college, Porter (then Holly Hart) lived in Oak Park for a couple of years while she was in graduate school, and got back into running on a casual basis, entering a few road races where she showed some of her former talent. After marriage to Daryl in 2007, the couple moved back to Oak Park, where Holly’s love of running was re-ignited. With her race times improving, she joined an informal bunch of runners who met on Thursday evenings last winter for runs around Riverside on its less congested streets. They called themselves the Rust Busters to stay in shape over the winter.

Finding herself as the group’s unofficial organizer, she became interested in doing some real coaching. She took the USA Track & Field Federation basic coaching course and received further online guidance from coaches at the Lydiard Foundation, established by Arthur Lydiard, the legendary New Zealand running coach. She then offered to lead a formal speed training program for the Oak Park Runners Club.

Her Wednesday evening sessions include lots of warm-ups and dynamic flexibility drills designed to prevent injury, in addition to the actual speed workouts on the track. Sessions are followed by cool-downs, stretches and core strengthening exercises. Some traditional runners may view these sessions as too much warm-up and cool-down, and not enough real running, but the results speak for themselves, particularly when considering that most adult runners cannot be full-time athletes, and need extra care to prevent injuries.

“I think I’m able to get runners to show up fast on race day,” say Porter, who sometimes has to restrain people in training so they don’t leave their best performances on the track. Subsequently, group members have not had any serious running injuries this season.

Porter also practices what she preaches since she currently leads the women’s 35-39 age group in the Chicago Area Runners Association standings, and is sixth in the overall (non age group) women’s standings. She finished second in the Makin’ Tracks 5K women’s division in River Forest, and at the recent Park Ridge Charity Classic 5K she set a new personal record by 20 seconds (18:29) finishing eighth in the woman’s division, while the Oak Park Runners Club women earned the second place team trophy.

As a runner and a coach, Porter’s enthusiasm and guidance are showing significant improvements both for her runners and for herself.

Paul Oppenheim is a member of the Oak Park Runners Club.

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