Running Communities: The Invaluable Paradox


After crossing the finish line this past June at the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, I realized it had been 10 years since my first official race. I used to say “I don’t run, I jog.” But this summer’s milestone made me realize that I don’t just train for an annual race, I’m a runner. It’s a part of me. I love when January (or sometimes February) rolls around and I start putting in miles and creating a training schedule. The bleakness of winter starts to seem less daunting as the daylight grows longer, I spend more time outside as the Lakewalk thaws out, and the busyness of spring work schedules is mitigated by my increased exercise time. Rest assured the novelty of a new year’s fitness routine won’t fade, as the small, incremental additions of training runs and laps around the track will provide power to my legs, strength to my lungs, and a clarity to my head.

My writer friend mentioned the oxymoron that running sometime produces: it’s a solo sport but so many people choose to run in communities. In my case, and with many others I know, that scenario rings completely true. A huge reason why I continue to run is based on the company I keep while doing it.  There’s a long list of ways in which I benefit from running and why my running community is so vital to my persistence.

Personalities and training goals

Understandably and logically, many runners choose to hit the track, trails, or pavement alone. While I completely value the quieting of my mind and the meditation I experience when running alone, I’ve found a community of female runners with whom I share a similar set of training, performance, and social goals. We’ve been running together for several years, and know each others’ strengths and weaknesses. For example, partaking in an indoor sprint activity last spring was not prompted by me. My friend showed up that day to affectionately badger us into running fast and running hard, several times. For me, it was slightly less than horrible, as I’m neither fast nor particularly competitive. In these scenarios, I tend to go with the flow. I have companions to pound out those miles with, and the conversation along the way (except for sprints, where I can hardly catch my breath) makes the time go by even faster. Our recent training goal was to finish the Gobble Gallup with handmade turkey hats and prance around as much as possible. Mission accomplished.

Running Communities: The Invaluable Paradox | Duluth Moms Blog

{Photo credit: Teresa Aldach}

Intentional and (sometimes) mindless chatter

The art of talking while running provides physiological and psychosocial benefits. Besides the obvious cardiovascular conditioning and utilizing the ‘talk test’ metric, that continuous chatter allows our cadre to update one another, test out a potentially tricky conversation, vent about a myriad of issues, and temper the typical stress of the day. Some of our fastest runs have been trying to keep up with someone who had a particularly difficult day and took it out on the pavement.

Fall in love with Duluth all over again

If you live in this climate yet cannot tolerate winter, you will be spending most of your life indoors. And I feel sorry for you. Winter is long and dark and grey and tough (hello, vitamin D deficiency), so it’s best to find ways to enjoy the colder months. Plus, if you’re running outside you’re rarely cold, right? Thirty degrees is balmy to a Northlander and actually causes many of us local runners to struggle with above-average summer temps.

Ditch iTunes and listen to your breath

I haven’t run with music for years. Instead of worrying that my own thoughts (or lack thereof) wouldn’t provide enough distraction from a nagging side ache or tight hamstring, it provides an immense meditation experience. Completely lost in thoughts and processing out my day, I work out issues and plan what’s coming next. It’s clarifying, comforting, and rejuvenating.

Specific and intentional scheduling

Since Grandma’s races fall in June, spring training is a must. This also happens to be the craziest time in our family’s lives and schedules, with work travel and extra time in the office. Each year that I train, a huge goal marker for me is to get in all (okay, most) of my runs despite the fact that our home calendar is bursting and color coded. Less free time, so a better use of my time. This spring, I’m considering hiring a babysitter for a set time every Saturday to make sure that I get my long runs in, despite solo parenting most of the weekends. The crabby (and sometimes the crazy) comes out if I don’t uphold my single weekly self-care ritual.

Model healthy habits for family

My children are little, but even my four-year old has observed and commented on my fitness activities. He’s dressed up like a runner (complete with his plastic gold medal), attempted pushups during my basement workout, perfected warrior pose, and clinks together the race medals that hang in my bedroom. Based on my example, I hope my children understand the value of consistent, intentional, yet realistic lifestyle habits. Additionally, I want them to witness me finding fulfillment in activities outside of our family.

Running Communities: The Invaluable Paradox | Duluth Moms Blog

Revel in the process, not the result

This adage is a cliché for a reason. I don’t run to participate in races, but rather to participate in personal goal setting. Consistent effort allows me to exceed a PR goal, pace consistently, just show up for a race, and even slowly rejoin this activity despite a painfully slow and challenging post-baby recovery. These miles developed my resolve, reminded me to breathe, and encouraged me to delight in the journey. And despite the aches and stiffness that seem to linger more persistently now, or the miles or races that don’t go exactly as planned, I (mostly) love doing this. There is a void when I stop out. It’s been a wild time of physical recovery, but the anticipation of new shoes and continuous chatter with stellar females makes the process as good as I remember it.

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Carrie and her husband of ten years are raising their sons, ages four and 15 months, with the guiding family principles that wiffle ball games can turn into neighborhood events, packing extra snacks never hurts, and the best way to end dinner time is with a family dance party. Her full-time work away from home is in higher education, equipping students with pathways to success during and after college. As a native Duluthian who returned to the area after completing a graduate degree in English, she’s motivated to develop this community for young professionals and families. Beyond frequenting parks and the kid-friendly spaces of the Zenith City, Carrie puts in miles on the trails and the Lakewalk for self-care and to maintain a supportive female community. Some of her personal goals for the near future include completing a marathon (maybe), starting a book group, and planning next year’s family vacation. She is hopeful she can use some of her challenges and growth as a mom with young children as a catalyst for community support.