A participant in last year’s Judgment-Free 5K crosses the finish line with a cane, helped by her husband. The “beginner-friendly” event, now in its fourth year, offers an opportunity for less experienced runners to try out a 5K. It is also open to people utilizing wheelchairs, walkers and service dogs. (Photo provided)

By SARA ARTHURS
STAFF WRITER

Do 5K races intimidate you because you worry everyone else will be faster or fitter? Fear not — a 5K being held Saturday is designed to be “Judgment-Free.”

“We are beginner-friendly,” said Maggie Morehart, who is organizing the Judgement Free 5K, now in its fourth year.

She said some people might not feel comfortable going to a race for the first time, worried they’d be among “elite runners.” So the idea is that someone who has never run a 5K could enter this event to feel it out. Morehart has heard from people who started with this 5K, then went on to run others after realizing they could do it.

The race slogan is “Fitness is for Everyone!”

The event includes a 1-mile walk that is “fully accessible” to wheelchairs, walkers and strollers. Service dogs are also welcome to participate.

Morehart said few people have participated with wheelchairs and strollers, but there has been some interest. One woman walked the mile with a cane, her husband helping her, people cheering her on.

She said the 1-mile route may also appeal to families of young children who may not wish to do the full 5K.

The 5K itself can be a run, walk or any combination of the two.

Morehart is regional fitness coordinator for Planet Fitness, where she was previously a trainer and encountered a lot of members who had never worked out before and had “no idea where to start.” It got her thinking — what if there was an event specifically for these people?

She noted the local running community is good at welcoming newcomers, but “for a lot of people it’s still really intimidating.”

No one starts out as a distance runner, she said. “It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.” But if you put time into it and push yourself, little by little, you will see a difference, she said.

At Planet Fitness, Morehart has seen people who never worked out before gradually get more fit. Over time they may lose weight, feel better and get off of medications for conditions like high blood pressure.

Participants who signed up ahead of time for the 5K have been receiving weekly emails with a training plan.

There is an incentive for those who do run fast — the first 20 finishers will get free tickets to Oktoberfest, which is also Saturday. But, Morehart said, there is “something for everybody.”

There are prizes for each age group, and also a raffle — so anyone has a chance of taking home a prize, even if you finish last. There will also be a costume contest with cash prizes for individual and team costumes.

All money raised is divided between the Special Olympics, the Boys and Girls Club, and Outdoor Mindset. The first three years, the event raised a combined $7,000. Morehart hopes to see that number reach $10,000 this year.

Planet Fitness nationwide is part of an anti-bullying movement with the Boys and Girls Clubs, Judgement Free Generation.

Registration for the 5K is $25 in advance or $30 on race day. Registration for the 1-mile course is $20 in advance or $25 on race day.

The race starts at 10 a.m., with registration at 8:30. It will be held at Riverbend Recreation Area near the dog park.

Walkers and runners can sign up online at https://runsignup.com/Race/OH/Findlay/JudgementFree5K .

Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs
Twitter: @swarthurs

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