In 2011, three months before her 50th birthday, Manchester resident Nadine Whitt promised herself that she would run a half-marathon, which measures out to 13.1 miles of sweat, tears and leg cramps.
Whitt, who has been actively running since 2010, had never run more than a 5K, or 3.1 miles, at the time. Nevertheless, after a few months of training, Whitt ran her first half-marathon that March in New Orleans. This year, Whitt will run the same half-marathon for the eight time.
Since 2011, however, Whitt has had plenty of motivation, thanks to the Mach Tenn Running Club, a Tullahoma-based group of runners that was established 40 years ago for active members of the Coffee County area.
Discovering the club around the time of her first races, Whitt says that Mach Tenn has given her “so many hints and tips and pointers from people of all ages, all speed levels and all skill levels.”
For Whitt, the running club has not only been a source of motivation and knowledge, but also of friendship and a “huge boost in fitness and confidence levels.”
“Probably my closest core group of friends right now is from that bond formed with the running club,” she says.
The Mach Tenn Running Club, which is responsible for some of Southern Middle Tennessee’s biggest races, including the Oak Barrel Half Marathon and the Mach Tenn Triathlon, currently meets once a week in Manchester for current members and anyone hoping to join new friends for a social, afternoon run. Starting every Thursday afternoon at 6pm at the Manchester Recreation Complex, a group of both walkers and runners complete a three mile course on the greenway, at various paces. The group also meets at the same time on the first Tuesday of every month at Daddy Billy’s Restaurant and Bar in Tullahoma for a leisurely three-mile social run.
Starting during the “running boom” of the 70’s, the club has been “used as a melting pot to get everybody back together and meet and have fun,” says Denny Elston, the club’s current Treasurer and member since the 80’s.
“We’re hoping to keep running alive,” he says. “Running is the thing that holds everybody together.”
Kim Childress, another Manchester resident and the current president of Mach Tenn, is proud of the healthy community, strong relationships and various events that the running club fosters and hosts each year. Childress knows that the running club, and running in general, are perfect for creating a healthy and happy county.
“Since we moved here and I got involved [with Mach Tenn] I was able to make a lot of new friends—people I would have never crossed paths with,” she says. “I’ve been able to meet people in Tullahoma and Manchester.”
Since Childress has been President of Mach Tenn, the club has also begun the Couch to 5K program. Like membership in the running club itself, the program is free and involves a nine-week course that allows community members to work up from 60 seconds of continuous running to 30 minutes. With mentors from the club catering to each individual’s walking or running capabilities, the participants meet once a week at Frazier McEwen Park in Tullahoma. At the end of the program, everyone runs the Jack Dash 5k in Lynchburg, the end goal of Couch to 5k.
Reflecting on memories of new runners crossing the finish line for the first time, Childress is ecstatic that the club has positively affected countless people’s lives.
“I think more people realize that when they see someone else out exercising—no matter what age or what size— they see that as their self,” she says. “They realize, ‘Oh! I can do that too!’”
In addition to benefitting individuals on their journey as runners, Mach Tenn, as a nonprofit organization, directs many of its proceeds from its races to local causes. In 2017, about $11,500 dollars from the Oak Barrel Half Marathon was given directly to local organizations such as No Kill Manchester and the Moore County Fire Department. Mach Tenn also pays local clubs, organizations and charities to coordinate the water stops at Oak Barrel. Childress estimates that about $25,000 were given back to the community after the most recent half marathon.
Nevertheless, a price cannot be placed on the confidence, self-esteem and friendships created by the running club and its members each year.
As Whitt looks forward to the future of the running club and the young families she hopes will join in the years to come, she is emboldened by the fearlessness that the club has given her.
“I almost feel like I can do anything— even at 56,” Whitt says. “I can do whatever I want, and you can’t stop me because I’m going to try.”