Each semester, the NECC President’s Running Club gets together once a week at lunchtime to “run the campus.”

The club is open to all faculty, staff, and students at the college, and to all kinds of runners.

New to running, or just getting back into fitness? That’s OK, each Monday on the Haverhill campus we have a “Couch to 5K” group, coached by NECC’s Chief Information Officer, Jeff Bickford, that’s just your speed.

Experienced runner but short on time, and just looking to get in a few moderate miles and socialize a bit while running around downtown Lawrence? Professor Sarah Courchesne will meet you on Fridays for some laps around the Campagnone Common.

Olympic athlete, looking to pass the fastest man alive, Usain Bolt, in the 200 metre sprint? Well, we’re here for you and we’ll do what we can—even if that means just joining you at the starting line and waving you down the road.

Me? I run back and forth between the groups and the campuses. It’s a marvelous way to set aside some time on the schedule to get out of the office, keep fit, meet more students, and enjoy the company of some wonderful college colleagues.

At the end of each semester the club enters a 5K race. In the spring, it’s our very own NECC Campus Classic, which takes place the first Saturday in May on the Haverhill campus. And in the fall, we pick a local race to support.

Earlier this week, despite suddenly plunging temperatures and a light rain, nine members of the club, ranging in age from 20-ish to 70-ish, turned out to run the Pentucket Pride 5K in West Newbury.

A few NECC runners took home awards, including lanky, 6-1”, fleet of foot student runner Logan Foster, who ended up fifth overall and second in his division.

Eighteen-month-old Teddy Gilbert managed to finish a couple paces ahead of his dad, Nathan Gilbert; though it surely helped that Nate was pushing little Teddy along in an all-terrain jogging stroller with knobby tires and sport suspension.

Here’s the thing about runners and running though: Most folks you see at those races aren’t out there to “win,” they are out there to get some exercise and have a good time. And even the ones who are competing are mostly competing with goals they set for themselves.

Yes, we all have numbers on our shirts, with chips that record our time as we cross the finish line; and race organizers hand out awards (like medals, beer glasses, and apple pies); but for most of us, the competition is for the “PR,” or “Personal Record.”

Running is largely an individual sport, and just about anyone, at any age or skill level, can participate. As soon as you run your first race, however far it was and however long it took you to finish it, you have set yourself a “Personal Record,” and if you want to, you can try to beat it the next time out.

If speed isn’t your thing but you like having goals to work toward, you can set PR’s for other things, like running a certain number of times a week or days in a row, staying injury-free, or knitting the world’s longest scarf while running a marathon (no kidding, David Babcock knitted a twelve-footer while running the Kansas City Marathon in 2013).

Several years ago, when I turned forty, I set myself a goal of getting a little bit faster each year until I turned fifty, and decided I would track my “Personal Record” using my time in a half marathon each fall.

The first few years were great. I shaved off a couple minutes each time, eventually finishing in just over an hour-and-a-half. Then, injury struck: a case of plantar fasciitis (the runner’s bane) that sidelined my training for a while and slowed me down the next fall.

Fifty is coming soon, and I won’t reach my original goal; but I’ve been accomplishing a few other PR’s along the way, like my “Fastest 5K in My 40’s” (the first NECC Campus Classic in 2013), and finishing the 200-mile Rock Lobster relay race along the coast of Maine with Mrs. G and a couple vans full of smelly, middle-aged running friends.

While clapping for the other runners at the Pentucket Pride award ceremony a few days ago, and watching the members of the NECC President’s Running Club collect their recognitions, I started thinking about how important “PRs” are to our students at the college.

Just like our Couch-to-5K competitors, many of our students are brand new to college—perhaps the first in their families to attend—or are returning to the classroom after years on the sidelines. They need more support and encouragement, and have to walk a bit before they run, maybe taking a First Year Seminar or a developmental class or two, on their way to a certificate, then perhaps an associate’s degree.

Others, like our experienced runners, may be solid scholars making steady progress toward a degree, a few credits at a time while balancing work and family schedules. They benefit from other motivated students around them and, although it may take them a little longer, will finish what they started and possibly transfer to a university for a bachelor’s degree.

And yes, we have many talented, high achieving “Olympian” honors students who recognize the value and high quality of education at a community college like NECC, take five or six classes a semester for a year or two, land on the Dean’s List, collect a Phi Theta Kappa transfer scholarship, grab that diploma and keep running toward the next goal.

However experienced they are, and whatever goals they may have when they arrive on NECC’s campus, our job is to meet them where they are, coach them along to help them get where they want to be; then clap and cheer when they set their own “PR.”

Happy running!