In October 2012, my husband and I had the unfortunate experience of being hit by a car while we were out for a run. We were waiting at a cross-walk on a four lane road and when we had the walk sign we started across the intersection. There was a silver mustang waiting to make a left hand turn and even though I made eye contact with him, or so I thought, he didn’t see us. He ended up accelerating into the turn picking my husband up with the hood of his car and running over my feet with his passenger side tires.
We certainly had a guardian angel looking out for us that day because between the two of us there was only one broken bone – the second metatarsal in my left foot. There were contusions and my husband had a concussion but it could have been so much worse. Sadly, evidence of that is becoming all too common among our running community.
It was a truly traumatic experience and the reason that I am such a safety-nazi as a runner. I believe it is as much OUR responsibility as runners to be aware and alert of our surroundings when we run, as it is for the drivers in their vehicles. A car will win – EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. (I’ll save my safety while running post for another time but be careful out there guys! You’re irreplaceable!)
So why did I tell you that story? Because when I came back to running after nearly 6 months of being on the mend I was struggling to find the motivation to run more than a mile at a time. It wasn’t that I was afraid to get back out there, if anything I’m a much more in-command runner now, but it was that I had lost so much in my fitness and endurance that I was really discouraged. I didn’t want to give up on running though, I had worked so hard to become a runner and with my husband about to start grad school I was going to need something to occupy my time. So I joined a training group.
I already had a half marathon finish to my name, though 6 years earlier, and I had done 5k’s and 10k’s since so I jumped right in the deep end and signed up for the half marathon training group at Fleet Feet Sports Louisville. I figured that paying for a training program and having people who cared if I showed up would help me get some of my mojo back. I started at the back of the pack with some of the most wonderful and encouraging women I have ever met and they had a mentor named Rita.
This group was affectionately known as the “Rita’s Angels” and she was the best and truest person to embody the definition of a mentor. Rita didn’t have to stay back and walk with me as I struggled through the heat and humidity of the Kentucky summer, but she did. She didn’t have to tell me that I was doing a wonderful job when all I wanted to do was quit, but she did. And she certainly didn’t have to answer all of my questions about running, injuries, weird cramps, etc, but she did. She did all that and more, with a smile and unending encouragement. It didn’t take me long to regain much of my stamina and speed that summer and I ultimately progressed away from Rita and her Angels But I like to think that I graduated from Rita to Jim.
I lovingly refer to Jim as everyone’s favorite running grandpa. He’s at least three-times my age but could run circles around me any day. Jim doesn’t really have a pace group that he mentors because he seems to be everywhere all the time. If you’re struggling on a particularly hard workout there’s a good chance that Jim will pop up behind you with a “posture” or “relax those arms” at the perfect moment. Even now that I have become a mentor to other runners, Jim is my measuring post and the mentor I strive to be.
My mentors and my training partners gave me that extra push that I needed to fall back in the swing of things with my running. The encouragement and knowledge that these people have shared with me has been invaluable and the acceptance and love you feel on days with nothing about your run is easy, is incredible. We like to say that no runner is ever left behind and I know that to be true. I actually got to participate in a study conducted by researchers at Bellarmine University on the Effect of Peer Influence on Exercise Behavior and Enjoyment in Recreational Runners in 2015 and the research showed what we group runners already know – your workouts feel harder alone and, in my case, I push myself harder when I’m running with others.
And let’s not forget all the bonuses. You have a group to hang out with before races start, people to support you along the course, and people to cheer you into the finish line. Before I joined my group I was always envious of those runners in big groups pre- and post races. The camaraderie is incomparable!
Then there are the little ways your training partners will bleed into your life outside running – from book clubs and Wednesday night dinners, to celebrating life’s big a little milestones like births and marriages. These people share in the best and worst because there’s nothing you won’t talk about on a four hour training run. We even volunteer together!
When faced with a cold, rainy, blustery run at 7:30a on a Saturday morning and all I really want to do is stay warm in my bed it’s those running partners, mentors, and my little flock of runners that I mentor, that get me out of bed. It’s not because I want to, though I am pretty fond of running, but it’s because those people care if I show up and that makes me care that much more. I’ve been a mentor for 5 training seasons for the Fleet Feet Louisville Distance Project half/ full marathon training group and 4 times for the No Boundaries Couch to 5k program. People think that as a mentor it’s your job to inspire others, and that’s true, but I can tell you with certainty that I’ve been more inspired by the stories and struggles of the people I’ve mentored than anything I can ever contribute.
That is why Mentors and Training Groups matter. It’s not just the exercise, though you may think that in the beginning, it’s really about the connections and relationships that come along with it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it forever, my running partners are my family, my tribe, and they are what makes running fun and passion-filled. I highly recommend finding and joining a training group in your area – if you’re here in Louisville I’m pretty sure that the group at Fleet Feet Louisville might be the best, but I might be a little biased!