By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– When Brian Tharp began to run, he was literally running for his life.
In 2008, after historic floods hit Eastern Iowa, Brian’s electric contracting company was bombarded with work; jobs that involved long hours, seven-day work weeks and a lot of physical labor. Since Brian is the type of supervisor to jump in and help with whatever his workers are facing, he also found himself knee-deep in the recovery effort for a solid year.
The problem was, at 360 pounds, his knees weren’t what they used to be.
“When you weigh 360 pounds, you can’t stand on your feet. You can’t sustain that weight for long periods of time,” said Brian’s wife, Kris. His busy workdays left little time for proper eating, she said, so Brian’s meals consisted of soda for breakfast, soda for lunch, and a big dinner at night.
“At that point, he said, ‘I’m done. I don’t want to live this way,’” she said. A consultation at the University of Iowa about bariatric surgery, a method of weight loss done by surgically banding the stomach, gave Brian the motivation he needed.
“He chose not to do that. He said he wanted to try to lose weight the right way first,” said Kris. “Surgery would be his last resort.”
With Kris’ help, Brian began the first steps toward a new way of life. The couple joined a CSA (Community Sustained Agriculture) program out of Grinnell, and made fresh, organic vegetables a regular part of their diet. Kris incorporated breakfast into their daily routine, packed Brian healthy lunches and snacks, and encouraged him to join her in walking around their hometown of Swisher.
“That first year, he lost 80 pounds,” she said.
Once walking became a habit, the Tharps bought a recumbent bicycle, and then later, a street bicycle for Brian. His exercising progressed, and the weight continued to disappear.
Eventually, Kris convinced Brian to run.
Kris was already a runner, starting out casually when their son Casey was on the high school cross-country team, running along with him to help him log his practice miles.
“Through Casey, his coach and his team, I discovered a love of running,” she said. With degrees in elementary education and computer science and an MBA from Mount Mercy University, Kris’ future was wide open, but running became her constant. She would eventually go on to teach running classes at Kirkwood Community College, where she worked as a project manager in the Internet technology department and also taught a college course.
Eventually, her commitment to running inspired her to open We Run, a specialty running store in North Liberty, where she envisions a customer base of everyone from triathalon competitors to recreational runners, new runners and those who need more hand-holding and education.
“Many newbie runners are under the philosophy that when you run, you have to run the whole race,” Kris said. “Totally not true.” Instead, Kris uses the principles developed by Olympic runner Jeff Galloway to teach her students how to train for 5K, 10K and marathon races. “He uses the premise of a walk-run method, and that’s what we use.”
The idea of gradual progression is what convinced Brian to commit to trying running, though skeptically at first.
“With the weight loss goal in mind, I had no other option. I told Kris I would run with her for six months, and if I didn’t like it, I was done,” said Brian.
He stuck with it. Last year, Brian was awarded the American Heart Association’s Lifestyle Change award for his personal achievement.
“Once I got started and saw the results, it became addictive,” he said.
“He drank the Kool-Aid,” Kris joked.
Running may be addictive, but Kris’s enthusiasm alone is enough to entice even the most shiftless to shift into gear. She said with the training programs she uses, she’s had students who can’t run longer than a minute go on to complete official races.
Through offering high-quality equipment for runners and walkers, Kris and Brian hope to introduce even more people to the joys of running.
“Yes, selling shoes is going to pay the lease payment, but it’s more about educating people that they can do it,” said Kris. “If Brian can lose the weight and be a runner, we can help anybody enjoy moving. And it’s not just about running. We are also selling walking shoes. We will have shoes for hopefully everyone.”
The shop will also carry a variety of other footwear such as orthotic sandals and recover shoes, plus items like compression socks, nutrition items, hydration equipment and running accessories like pouches, arm bands, orthotic inserts and waist belts. Kris is excited about the various clothing lines they will carry.
“I figure if I’m going to keel over while exercising, I want to look cute doing it,” she laughed.
In truth, the choices for all their shoes, clothing and accessories were made with thought and care. Both Brian and Kris test the brands of shoes and clothing they sell by actually wearing them to exercise, assessing them for comfort, functionality and durability. “Many of the products have been hand-picked and sweated over, between Brian and me. They are products Brian and I have used and if it’s in the store, there is a reason,” said Kris.
The Tharps also invested in equipment that analyzes an athlete’s footfall, posture and gait. Sports Motion offers technology used by athletes in almost every sport, from high school coaches and golf pros to professional teams like the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. Even the Mayo Clinic has used Sports Motion technology to research injury rehabilitation. For the We Run staff, it will allow them to put a runner on the store’s treadmill, or set them to running in the store or on the sidewalk, and use a special camera and computer software to analyze the athlete’s gait.
“It takes the guesswork out of putting people in the right shoe,” said Kris.
Kris said many new exercisers tell her they are intimidated by visiting a specialty shoe store. She is determined that We Run will be different.
“I hope what Brian and I and our staff bring will be open, helpful friendliness, never intimidation. New runners are already scared enough,” she said. “Our slogan is ‘Walk. Run. Learn.’ We envision a lot of clinics and learning opportunities.”
In the running classes that both she and Brian now teach, they have made a practice of bringing in other health and fitness experts to answer students’ questions, such as dieticians, chiropractors or massage therapists. At the We Run store, Kris will invite company representatives to visit during business hours to provide in-depth information and data about their products to customers.
Beyond the products they sell, the Tharps want to help others get on track in other ways as well. Right now, they are seeking 10 people to sign up for the Heritage Farm CSA that got Brian into healthier eating; if successful, the farm has agreed to make We Run a produce drop off site. We Run sponsors a local triathalon team, the Iowa Heat, and Kris hopes to host an occasional local walk/run race out of the store’s adjacent garage. Anyone can sign up for their Let’s Run running classes through the We Run website at www.werunllc.com .
We Run opens this weekend, March 25, which is also Kris’ birthday. It will be a fitting celebration for this couple realizing a hard-earned goal, and eager to help others reach theirs.
“We did this for each other, and to help people change their lives,” said Brian. “Once you see the improvements in your body and how you feel, and you meet all these great people in the process, it becomes about improving your whole life.