By Jennifer Huberdeau
Ask Kent Lemme about his running career and he’ll tell you he’s always been an athlete, but he wasn’t always a runner.
That may sound strange coming from someone who successfully defended his No. 1 spot in the Men’s Elite 50 at the Hartshorne Memorial Masters Mile in January by running a mile in 4 minutes, 42.76 seconds. Or, from someone who works with and trains local runners on a daily basis at the Berkshire Running Center in Pittsfield, Mass. But that’s what the two-time over-all winner of the Pittsfield Independence Day 5k and three-time Josh Billings RunAground kayak Ironman winner will tell you.
“I’ve always been athletic,” said Lemme, 51, a Pittsfield, Mass. resident, who played soccer, golf and basketball in high school and continued with golf and basketball in college. “I always thought it was something you did to get into shape to play a real sport. The way I looked at running was that it was kind of a necessity. To get into shape for this other sport, you’ve had to go out and run. I never really looked at it as a sport of its own.”
As an adult, he began running again, but this time it was as a weight-management tool.
“I started running a little bit when I had kids, just because I found myself starting to put on some pounds and I didn’t like where it was heading,” he said. “Before it got too bad, I was going to get out there and start running. I had no idea what I was doing as far as training goes, but I was just trying to keep my weight under control.”
Running remained a means to an end for Lemme, then the golf course superintendent at the Taconic Golf Club in Williamstown, Mass., until September 2001, when he made the decision to make running a major focus in his life. On the morning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he was on his way to play in a golf course superintendents tournament at the Country Club of Vermont in Waterbury.
“That was my last competitive round of golf,” Lemme said. “On the drive home, I thought about my life. I was 35 at the time. I said the only two things in my life that I truly was ever passionate about was music and sports. I never felt like I did either one to the fullest of my potential. Since I had done some running, I thought I could be kinda good at this running thing.”
It was on that drive home that Lemme started a vision quest, challenging himself both physically and mentally to become the best runner he could be.
“For some reason, it wasn’t like those idle things you sometimes say to yourself. It sunk in,” he said. “So I started this quest to train, to learn about this sport, to compete and see how good I could get. The first year or two I would run these local races and would be beat by these two or three guys all of the time. I started asking myself, ‘What are these guys doing that I’m not?’ I tried figuring it out and just kept working at it.”
Over the next few years, he would train with Coach Ralph White at Williams College and a few others and on his own. He also coached track and field at Mount Greylock Regional High School and cross country running at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
It wouldn’t be until August 2011 that Lemme would consider making a career out of running. At that point he had spent most of his life working on the greens of local golf courses and the prior 17 watching the grass grow at the Taconic Golf Club.
“We had this saying that there are two types of golf course superintendents: those who have lost grass and those who will. I was in that latter category for the most part of my life,” he said. “Then there was the year that was a super storm of sorts. I took a weekend off to go to my 25th high school reunion. My daughter moved into college. We had this storm and I kind of wasn’t paying as close attention as I should have and we had a lot of dead grass. I began thinking about what would happen if I lost my job.”
As he began considering the possibilities of what he could do,the idea of opening his own running store became an option.
“I had always traveled an hour and a half to the running specialty store in Springfield. I always thought that there should be one in Berkshire County. I had this idea that we should open our own run specialty store and I pitched it to my daughter, Kaylene, who was a junior in high school at the time. She kind of looked at me and she said, ‘Dad, this has to be one of those things that you do and not one that you just talk about,’” he said.
It was then that he met his wife, then Shiobbean Archy, who had just started the Running Center of the Berkshires.
“It was just kind of a billboard at Berkshire Nautilus. She started doing run training and had heard I wanted to open a store and do some training as well,” Lemme said. “We kind of partnered up business wise and started looking for a space.”
The result was the Berkshire Running Center, which was originally run out of Berkshire Nautilus. After five years in its incubator space, and a marriage, the Lemmes moved the running center into its own space at 34 Depot St., Pittsfield, Mass., where they offer spin, cardio-strength and running classes, as well as a store stocked with running supplies and shoes.
“We’re potentially expanding our space,” Lemme said. “We’re looking at adding the space next door as a spin studio, leaving this open space for our cardio-strength classes.”
The running center also organizes the annual Steel Rail Half-Marathon and 8K on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail at the end of May and Ramblefest, an October version, which will feature a 15K and relay for the first time this year, and numerous 5K races.
But even though he’s now helping others reach their running and fitness goals, Lemme said he isn’t done with his own quest.
“It’s really hard to say to yourself that’s the best you can do,” he said. “I had a really good season this last year at the age of 50. I won the 2017 USA Track and Field Masters Grand Prix individual 50-54. I liken it to saying I lost the battle, but won the war. I only won the gold in one of my competitions, but I won three silvers and two bronzes. I was the overall winner for my age group for the whole country.
“My goal is to keep improving. At my age, improvement might not be getting faster, it might be not slowing down when everyone else is.”
To learn more about the Berkshire Running Center go to berkshirerunningcentercom.3dcartstores.com
Tips for outdoor running in late winter and early spring
- Treadmill running is a great way to stay active, but it uses different muscles than outdoor running. Expect your calves and Achilles to be sore when transitioning back outside.
- If you’ve primarily run on a treadmill during the winter, you’ll need to transition your runs outdoors, a few at a time.
- Wear spiked tracks, such as Yaktrax, on your sneakers to prevent slips and falls on ice or snow.
- Layer, layer, layer. An outer shell an be tied around the waist if it needs to be shed.
Keep your core warm. Quarter- and half-zip shirts allow you to zip up when cold and unzip as you warm up.
- Leave the cotton fabrics for after your run. Moisture-wicking fabrics keep sweat off the skin.
- Worn-out shoes can cause injuries as they lose cushioning and support structures weaken.
- Replace running shoes every 350 to 500 miles.
- Wear the right shoes for your feet and running style. Some people need more support than others.
Source: Shiobbean and Kent Lemme, owners of the Berkshire Running Center
Jennifer Huberdeau is New England Newspapers’ online editor and associate editor of UpCountry magazine. She also pens the column, “The Cottager,” for Berkshires Week and The Shires of Vermont.