Big Strides

TRAVERSE CITY – Local runner Holly Shurg isn't out to take top place in her age group, or even to run lots of races for that matter. Her goal is simple: Just keep running.

"I'm not a fast runner, I don't run high mileage," says Shurg, who works in facilities design at Munson Medical Center. "I'm your average I-like-to-run kind of person."

To stay strong enough to hit the pavement "pain-free for as long as I can all my life," Shurg is taking advantage of a new specialized program for runners and soon-to-be runners called EXCELerate, offered by EXCEL Rehabilitation Services of Traverse City.

The program, which launched this winter, includes both pre-habilitation and rehabilitation services. It also offers individualized and group coaching.

Created by EXCEL directors (and avid runners) Stephanie Walton and Dena Johnson, EXCELerate is for beginning runners as well as veterans of the sport. They believe the program can help those training for their 10th marathon as much as it can those who aren't even sure running is for them but want to give it a try.

"People can start running at any age and we can help fit it in to your life, whatever your goal is," Walton says.

Johnson, who began running in her late 20s and could barely run a mile when she started, says this is one of the reasons EXCELerate is so important to her and why she wanted to get it going in northern Michigan.

"When both feet leave the ground, you are a runner," she says. "It's not the distance that's important, but the desire."

The program, located in the EXCEL clinic on North Royal Drive, offers services such as comprehensive running evaluation with video gait analysis and running analysis; posture, strength and flexibility assessment; running injury assessment; home exercise program; functional strength; footwear recommendations; and coaching services.

EXCELerate provides services for all phases of running, including physical therapy; beginning, marathon and half marathon training groups; running form analysis; conditioning programs for injury prevention; physical therapy for injury management; and performance enhancement.

For Shurg, who experienced knee pain after running last year's Bayshore half marathon, the new program aims to prevent future injuries. She'd already gone through physical therapy with EXCEL Rehab when she'd heard about the new services.

"We did a lot of strengthening and flexibility type things," she says of the physical therapy regimen that helped her get back out running pain-free.

When Shurg began experiencing tightness in her leg late last year, however, she decided to check in with her physician. That's when she discovered EXCELerate.

"I thought, before I start training with longer miles [for this year's Bayshore], I think I better get it checked," she says. "Luckily, when I went back to the doctor, she told me about the EXCELerate program, which sounded perfect."

Shurg has been able to learn of her strengths as a runner as well as her body's weak spots. With this information, EXCELerate staff has been able to suggest appropriate exercises and stretches.

An initial assessment – lasting about an hour and a half – costs $200, and includes one follow-up session to go over results of the gait analysis and other assessments, as well as suggested exercises and stretches.

For running coaching services, EXCELerate is working closely with award-winning coach Lisa Taylor, who brings her 30 years of experience with all levels of runners. Taylor has coached more than 2,000 runners throughout her career. Coaching services offered by Taylor include one-on-one and group for all ages and abilities.

"EXCELerate coaching will allow individuals the chance to customize their running goals to their lifestyle and community," Taylor says.

Group runs organized by the EXCELerate staff can help runners stay on track with their fitness goals, Walton says. The location and dates of these runs will vary; information will be posted on the program's Facebook page:

"That can be such a good way to do a long run – running with other people," Walton says. "Plus it helps keep your training on track."

Shurg says she's grateful to have access to a program like EXCELerate.

"After that injury and how painful it was, I don't want that to happen again. I don't want to take off months of running," she says. "To have [this program] up here I think is great. It's exciting." BN