COLUMBIA — People run for many reasons — health, fitness, competition. Emily Nusbaum runs for all those, but also for companionship.
Nusbaum started running to lose weight and be healthy, but she didn't really enjoy it.
After joining Body Combat Chicks, she was able to run and work toward half marathons, thanks to the support she received from other women in the group.
"I rarely, rarely run alone," Nusbaum said. "It’s a huge distraction. People who don’t run think it’s really crazy, but people who do understand that you can almost forget that you’re running."
Body Combat Chicks is a running group for women in Columbia with 357 members, ranging in age from early 20s to early 60s.
It one of at least 18 running groups in Missouri and one of more than 100 groups nation-wide, according to the Running Network.
Throughout the year, Body Combat Chicks meet at the Forum Boulevard trailhead of the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail on Tuesday and Saturday mornings to run and train for races.
A popular race for the group is the Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ Festival half marathon, which is set for Saturday in Columbia.
The group was started in the spring of 2009 by Nita Brooks and Maigan Shifley. After Shifley talked to a friend who was training for a half marathon, she and Brooks decided to see how far they could run.
"We just went out for a run one day and ran farther than we thought we could," Shifley said.
Brooks had the idea to recruit some women from her BodyCombat class at Wilson's Fitness Center to join them, Shifley said. Both are BodyCombat instructors.
According to the website of founder Les Mills, BodyCombat is a fitness-to-music program that uses mixed martial arts for a cardiovascular workout.
Leslie "Les" Roy Mills is a former Olympic athlete from New Zealand. After retiring from his Olympic career in 1968, he became a gym owner and developed several fitness programs, including BodyPump, BodyStep and BodyAttack.
Not all of the Body Combat Chicks were in class with Brooks and Shifley. Many of the runners, including Nusbaum, discovered it by word of mouth.
Nusbaum said she always found running appealing, but she needed structure to motivate her training.
She started listening to a podcast called "Couch to 5k," which sets up a program designed to train people to run a 5K in nine weeks. In 2008 she ran a 5K by herself but said she "didn't love it."
A friend told her about Body Combat Chicks in 2009, and she has been with them ever since.
She said the program offered the discipline and companionship she wanted, which made running enjoyable for her.
The Body Combat Chicks Facebook page suggests training plans and running routes for the week, Shifley said.
Routes range from flat to hilly so runners can test their speed and endurance, she said. The variety helps prepare members for the races they may participate in throughout the year.
Most do two or three half marathons a year, Nusbaum said. A few have completed full marathons.
According to Running in the U.S.A., more than 185 races are listed in Missouri between Sept. 22 and Nov. 18. The website lists eight upcoming races for the Columbia area, including the blues festival half marathon.
Members also volunteer to work at aid stations for local races. On Labor Day, several members of Body Combat Chicks worked at stations for the Heart of America Marathon. They provided the runners with water, Gatorade, orange slices, jelly beans, bananas and pretzels, Nusbaum said.
Shifley said, "I think the girls just really wanted to support the community on that one."
Support for one another is also a bonus for the group. Running together also makes it difficult to quit because they encourage each other to keep going, Shifley said.
"You have constant support. People talking you into just one more mile, one more step," she said.
Women in the group range from lifelong athletes to those who have never seriously run before. This fosters the support and encouragement, especially for those who have not always been runners.
"It's pretty amazing to see those women especially – thinking they could never run far and then they do. And they do it again," Shifley said.