Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Unless someone is watching a bunch of "Seinfeld" re-runs in a short period of time, the words "couch potato" and "marathon" aren't usually mentioned in the same sentence.

Come to think of it, "running" and "bacon" don't quite belong together either.

Yet, for area runners, those four words are synonymous with Albany Run/Walk.

Paula Bacon started the program in Albany with Jean Ramirez almost eight years ago, and she's been helping people get off the sofa and across the finish line ever since.

"My first race ever was a marathon (26.2 miles)," said Bacon, who announced earlier this week she would be relinquishing her post as director of Albany Run/Walk to respected member George Houston. "My brother challenged me, saying I was getting a bit too heavy. He lives in Virginia and said, 'Why don't you come up here and run a 10-miler with me?' So I said, 'Why don't we just do a Marine marathon?' Well, we did."

Fast forwarding to present day, the 52-year-old Bacon is stepping down because running gets, well, tiring after a while. That and the fact she has a web design company and is also the Executive Director of the Dougherty County Medical Society.

Taking the reins will be Houston, who was picked because of his passion for the sport.

"I'm super excited about it," Houston said Thursday. "We're going to be doing a lot of the same things we've been doing in the past, but I've got some ideas and stuff to make it (even more) interesting."

That was never a problem for Bacon, who found her niche in the sport shortly after she took it up.

"After I had kids and quit going to the YMCA (for racquetball) and got bored at the gym, I didn't have anything (pushing me to exercise)," Bacon said. "I even took a couple of aerobic classes and didn't get anything out of it. But since I've been (running), I've loved it ... Even those early morning runs, I've been excited just to get up and see my buddies (out there in the) morning."

Bacon started the program in Albany after hearing about former Olympian Jeff Galloway's Marathon and Half-Marathon Training Program in Atlanta. The program has a unique take on what it calls "injury-free" running.

"A lot of the times, people will just walk toward the end (of a run)," Houston said. "But if you walk a minute, then run a minute (from time to time), you're not as tired toward the end. You can run longer and faster overall because of the breaks early on."

That's Galloway's method, and, according to Bacon, people with no running experience at all can work their way up to finishing a marathon in six months or less.

"It's done so much for me, just organizing this group, the whole program," said Bacon, who completed 13 marathons in her first five to six years of running. "When people see that they can accomplish a marathon, they can really translate that into other areas of their lives. People always say, 'I never thought I could do that before.'

"I saw one family where the wife started running with us, then the daughter, then the husband. One by one, they started coming in and it was just the coolest thing. They didn't run before, but now they're doing it all the time."

Bacon said there have been multiple people in the program who have touched her life over the years, but one in particular, Sabrina Powell, was especially inspirational.

"She had been diagnosed with breast cancer some years ago, and ran with us a few years. Her cancer came back, but she stayed with us and did as much as she could," Bacon said, pausing a moment to collect herself. "We lost her last fall."

Powell was one of the 14 original members of the program when it was started and even finished the Chicago Marathon in 2004 and Marine Corps Marathon in 2005.

Today, Bacon's program boasts more than 100 members. And while her days as Albany Run/Walk's Program Director have come to an end, her mark most certainly has been left on the group.

One of those things they'll keep doing is the concept of "pace groups," where runners are grouped together by how fast they usually run. The slowest person in the group dictates when the group takes their walk breaks, and designated pace group leaders keep everything running smoothly -- no pun intended.

It's a good thing, too. Runners would have a hard time keeping up with Houston if he was the only leader. After all, Houston's a runner, swimmer, cyclist, has completed multiple marathons and triathlons, and even did a half ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and marathon) once.

"George is very sensitive to folks who aren't as fast as he is," Bacon said. "It would definitely take a certain person to do this job. It's not for just anybody, but George is going to be great. He's certainly got the passion and the drive and he's excited."

Bacon then added with a laugh: "It also takes someone a little crazy."

Houston's schedule might seem a insane to some. He is the district manager for three area Zaxby's franchise restaurants, runs after two children, updates his blog on a regular basis and helps out with his wife's photography business.

His plate is definitely full, but he's pretty sure he can handle it.

"I've got a good wife who's very supportive, so I'll take it one day at the time," Houston said. "We've also got people in the program who are going to help me out."

His first test will be will be Aug. 21 at the 2.62-mile Albany Run/Walk Kickoff. Galloway will even be in attendance to see how he does.

Houston will be prepared, though. He has a training session in January with more than 200 program directors from around the country to talk about trends and ideas for improving the program.

Oh, yeah -- and Bacon isn't going anywhere, either.

While she won't be running things, Bacon will be helping Houston make the transition from member to director. After time, Bacon said, Houston will be able to see how rewarding the hard work of being a director can be.

"When you see people come across that finish line that have been trying all year and persevered, sometimes they just break down and cry," Bacon said. "It's amazing."

Make that five words associated with Albany Run/Walk.