There are women who grew up on cross country teams, those who as adults found their way to running groups, and others whose joy for running is fueled by their “BRFs” (“Best Running Friends”). I do not fit into any of those categories. I quit my high school cross country team after two weeks because of a “hip injury”. (Or maybe after thirty years it is okay to admit that I quit because running is hard and I could not understand the point.) These days, running plays a central role in my life, but it is and always has been very much a solo pursuit. My idea of a “group run” is a long run with my husband on the weekend, or if I’m really going to go big on the group exercise bit, we’ll have our son or daughter join us for a stretch. Mostly, though, running provides a space where I do some of my best thinking and writing, and I find that these thoughts are best processed when I am very much alone. It’s not because I’m anti-social or don’t crave something else. It is just that I am a born introvert (who can play a very good extrovert game) coupled with the fact that there really is no place in my life where I feel more vulnerable than when it comes to the thought of putting myself “out there” among a group of female runners who, in my insecure mind, must be better, faster, more committed, and more passionate than me. So, it is with envy that I just have admired from afar women who somehow managed to find their flock and show up for each other again and again on training runs, at start lines, and at post-race celebrations.
But as much as I cherish my alone time and my solo runs, something undoubtedly has changed in me. And that something finally has given me the courage to step forward and join a team.
- My son’s cross country team. This cross country team has a long and storied history of making the top cut in the state and nation under the guidance of an exceptional coach. Just the depth of the athletic talent that this team nurtures year after year makes it special. But what makes the team exceptional is the way they are bonded both on and off the course. It may be the top five runners in who score, but no one is done cheering until the last runner is in (there are over 100 kids on the team). Mutual respect, integrity, hard work, persistence and drive to pursue individual and team bests fuels these runners. And while I have a big place in my heart for the whole team, watching the varsity girls race together leaves me stunned. Their coach at the cross country banquet struggled to find words to describe the connection between this varsity team. These young women are fierce individual athletes, but there is an unquantifiable, indescribable bond between them that takes them to a whole different level. Wherever they all are on the course, they push forward – and push each other forward – as a unit, sure in their knowledge that they are stronger together than they are apart. And to witness that intangible power at work and driving this this team of young women is pure inspiration. Having watched them in action, I no longer think of running as an individual sport. And I don’t think I ever will again.
- Writing. When I first started to write, I expected that it might generate some interest (and at that point I was willing to settle even for feigned interest) among family and friends. Instead, writing and publishing more broadly has provided me with an unexpected gateway to a whole community of runners, of every level and literally from all around the globe. As much as connections can be born out of writing and social media webs, I’ve found myself getting to know runners, and especially runner-writer-mothers, who are experiencing so many of the same highs and lows of this journey. From this, I know that no matter where I am running, I am truly not alone. I am not alone in the sucky aftermath of a long run gone bad. I am not alone in the joyful celebration of a marathon PR. I have discovered the power of shared experiences, and it drives me in a way that I never would have imagined on day one.
- Introduction to the Team. If watching the cross country team and getting just a taste of what it is like to be part of a running community wasn’t enough, the Chicago Marathon and my introduction to the Volée sealed the deal. While waiting in the bathroom-line-from-hell familiar to any runner who has run any race anywhere, a woman approached me with a huge smile to ask if I was running on the Oiselle Volée team. Pause for a moment: I am a forty-something mom … almost nothing about me and my appearance (short of my race bib) shouts “she’s must be on the team.” But, I was wearing my lucky Oiselle training hat for the marathon, and she wanted to know if I was running with them. I confessed that I wasn’t, we talked a bit, and then she smiled, wished me good luck, and waved and went to rejoin her teammates: a group of women of all ages and shapes, wearing their Oiselle jerseys, laughing and pumping each other up for a race of a lifetime.
And damn if I didn’t want to be a part of that group and that positive energy.
The Oiselle Team’s stated mission is to "create a sisterhood of support at a variety of levels from beginners to professionals, from the roads to the trails to the track … committed to fostering a team that challenges, supports and empowers runners of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.” The whole of that statement speaks to my core of how I want to run, and the spirit of how I want to live. While I am new to this flock, I am inspired. I am part of a team. And I believe I will be stronger and more assured because of it.
So here I go.
Head Up. Wings Out!