It all started with a hat.
Have you ever noticed a cute little sign as you’re leaving your local running shop? What goes through your mind? “Awesome! I’ll be there!” or do you think “Yuck, I hate new people.” Or perhaps you think “I’m afraid to go, what if there is no one in the group that I run with?” Or, “Who needs more friends?”
To many people, like me, reading that little sign and joining a group has changed their lives. When a new local running store opened up in my neighborhood, I read the sign, which lead to the hat.
The sign announced that the store was rolling out a running group called Team Happy Feet. I went to the first group run and then another, and another, and so on. Then almost exactly a year ago I came home from my running group Team Happy Feet’s end-of-the-year celebration. Randy, the owner of my local running store and creator of Team Happy Feet, gave us winter hats with the store’s logo on it. I snapped a picture of myself in my hat and, because I looked ridiculous, texted it to three of my friends from the group. All three responded with pictures of themselves in their hats.
That same group message has been going on ever since. We’ve shared silly pictures, we’ve discussed race plans, training plans and what to wear for a race. We’re good friends, we’re confidantes, we’ve helped each other in life and in becoming better runners and people. But my running group, Team Happy Feet, is so much more than friends.
During the early days of Team Happy Feet, many of the original 20 members struggled to run even two miles at a time. The group has grown to over 500 members and many of those original runners have gone on to complete half and full marathons. One of those runners is my friend Jeanne.
When Jeanne started running at the age of 49, she was looking for a way to increase her fitness and burn some calories. With the support (and persuasion) of the group, Jeanne soon found herself running her first half marathon. Fellow Team Happy Feet were there by her side during the entire race. After that, at 50, Jeanne set her sights on a full. Not only did she complete her first marathon, she qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon as her second!
As team Happy Feet has grown, so have the number of group runs. On any given day, you can post on the team’s Facebook page where and when you are looking to run, and chances are someone in the group will meet you. There is even a group of Happy Feeters who have started the Zero Dark Thirty Group. These masochists meet at 4:30 a.m. several times a week to get their runs in. I’ve watched as more runners join their ranks each week. They hold each other accountable to get their runs in and it continues to bring all of them increased success from race to race.
Randy also created the 1000 mile group. The goal of the group is simple: run 1000 miles in one calendar year. For some people that’s no big deal, but for a lot of the group this goal was enough to motivate them far beyond their comfort zone. I joined the group because I was curious to see what my yearly mileage would be because I was never very good at keeping track. I watched each month as everyone entered their miles into the shared spreadsheet.
This year a large group of Happy Feeters decided to run the Columbus Half- and Full Marathon. Of course a new Facebook page was started for this group. There, people shared training plans, planned group runs, created matching shirts for the race, organized a pre-race dinner and an amazing support network formed. At the race, members tackled first marathons, shattered PRs, and there were some heartbreaks. Happy Feeters were there along the course and at the finish to witness, cheer and support all of these events.
Being a part of a running group has given me the opportunity to give back to the sport I love. It is forum to learn and share your knowledge and experience. It is a place where Paul, an ex-overweight smoker, now inspires a group of 500 runners with his motivational thoughts and pictures from his runs around the country. It is a place where I can help someone train for their first marathon and then watch proudly as they get so fast that I can no longer keep up with them.
Because of this group, I have had the opportunity to volunteer, cheer, and help facilitate at races. One of my favorite opportunities has been pacing the Medina Half Marathon during the past two years. The Team Happy Feet pacers met for weeks before the race. Not only did they run the course so they knew it like the back of their hand, but they practiced running at their pacer-pace to make sure they had it down right.
There is something about a shared passion that makes running groups different. These people see you at your strongest and your weakest. They know what you are capable of, even when you don’t, and push you out of your comfort zone. They see you crash and burn and they don’t judge you; they simply pick you up, brush you off and get you back out there. These are the people who get to know the unfiltered version of you. They are the ones that hear about your bad day at work, the long night with the baby, whether or not you pooped before that run, and what your dreams and goals are. These people are the reason I love to run.
Do you have a running group you love being a part of?
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