The Wolf Pack: Women’s Long Distance Running

And it was down this mile stretch that I realized that women’s long distance running is a sisterhood – one that I am proud to be a part of.

This past week was a bit slow for women’s professional sports – someone I have never heard of before won the French open, the USWNT played a rather uneventful match against Norway, and the WNBA continued to trudge forward in mid-season form. But this past week did give me an excellent reminder about how women’s sports aren’t just played at the professional level. It also reminded me that a heat advisory, 550 feet of elevation, and a possible hairline fracture do not create ideal conditions for a half-marathon.

To say that the Run for the Wounded Half rocked my world would be a gross understatement. Frankly, it was the worst run I have ever had in my entire life. This course beat me down and refused to apologize. It was literally just 13.1 miles of pain, sweat, heat, and agony through Prince William Forest, which essentially is just one steep, gigantic hill. I think the only reason that I finished was because you get so far out into the wilderness that you have no choice but to complete the course otherwise no one would find you if you didn’t. That, and the fact that it benefited the Wounded Warrior Project. How can you quit a race that benefits people who might not be able to ever even walk again? You can’t. At least I couldn’t do that in good conscience.

So I kept pushing myself in the heat. I kept running like I would in any other race, or in any other training run. But as the hills continued and my body became more and more dehydrated I started to fall to the back of the pack. And that didn’t bother me too much – I’m not a fast runner and a good number of the participants in this race were either marines, or elite runners. And everyone knew before the clock started ticking that they weren’t going to hit a new PR in this race. One girl even made the comment as we motivated to the start line that she was potentially going to have to slow up her 8:20 pace. Yeah, I know…I was way out of my league.

But there was a bright spot in the race – a turn around point in the middle of the woods at mile six of the course. It allows you to go by everyone that is ahead of you before you get to the dead end and everyone that is behind you once you turn around. And it was down this mile stretch that I realized that women’s long distance running is a sisterhood – one that I am proud to be a part of.

At this point I looked like death warmed up. And every man that ran by just kept his eyes focused forward and continued to work toward his goal. But almost every woman had some sort of encouraging word to say. Either, ‘good job’ or ‘almost half-way there’ or the occasional ‘you got this.’ My personal favorite was the woman who threw out a ‘looking good’ because that honestly made me laugh out loud. She laughed too. No one ‘looked good’ during this race.

But there is something about women encouraging other women, especially when they are working toward the same goal. It isn’t something that is seen too much in the work place or on the red carpet. In fact, many times we have to fight and kick and claw past each other, and at each other’s expense, just to get a little higher on the ladder. So when you see someone who it tearing it up out there cheer you on as you run past it can really lift you up when you need it most. It sounds like it would be patronizing because they are doing so much better than you are, but it’s not. Because these women just want you to succeed and do the best that you can do. We cheer each other on because we know that this it tough. It doesn’t matter if you are rocking an 8-minute mile or an 18-minute mile – it is still hard.

Those cheers go a long way, especially when you are having a bad run. And we have all had those bad runs. The one where nothing goes right, or your feet are killing you, or you are falling a minute behind your normal pace and you have no idea why. So when someone acknowledges the struggle that you are having but still believes that you can finish this damn thing, it gives you a little extra pep in your step. Even if it is only for another tenth of a mile.

And women runners aren’t just helpful on the course. I mean, have you ever talked to one while they are training for a race? They are so quick to tell you what is working for them, from their new insoles to the best hype track they have on their playlist. Women runners are always quick to encourage other women to take up the hobby and they are always there to lend a helping hand or give the best advice they can.

To be honest, that’s how I got into running. I showed some interest and the woman who would turn out to be my future running partner (who I am currently mad at because she wants to retire from running) invited me to do a quick two miles with her. And let me tell you she kicked my ass all two of those miles. She was way ahead of me the whole time. But she would circle back and pick me up and kept encouraging me to move forward. And I cussed her for all two of those dreadful miles too. The fact that she even ran with me after that, let alone helped me train for my first half, was a miracle.

But now that I am a more seasoned runner I realize that her helping me wasn’t a miracle. Because I would do the same for some other woman who wanted to get into long-distance running. It’s like the most non-secret inclusive club that anyone could join. We all want to see each other do our best and we want to have fun and get a good workout in and add as many people to the group as we possibly can.

Have you ever noticed that men tend to run alone? You see them out there in the streets and on the trails just pumping their music, and moving forward and just simply focusing at the task at hand. Now think about women runners – how many have you seen run in a pack? In my town, there is one women’s running group that takes up a lane of the streets because the sidewalk simply will not hold them. And every time I see them I just smile because they are having the time of their lives. They are even smiling (which I do not understand, but hey, good for them).

But I think the greatest part of being part of the wolf pack that is women’s running is that fact that we are all so diverse. Sure, we are all women, but no two are alike. I always like to say that not everyone can be athletic, but everyone can be an athlete. And women’s running goes to prove that. It doesn’t matter if you are tall, short, black, white, thick, or thin. ANYONE can be a runner. Anyone can be an athlete. But for some reason that mentality has only caught on with this group.

For the mot part none of us are judgmental (though we all have very strong opinions about shoes). We recognize that everyone has a different reason for wanting to be a runner. Some people want to run to lose weight, others love to run because they can’t get enough of their runner’s high (still looking for mine), and then there are those of us, like me, who run so that they don’t feel so guilty about the beer they drink and the tacos they eat. It’s all a balance. But no matter the reason, we are just pumped that you are running.

And it doesn’t matter if you run slowly. It doesn’t bother my 5’10 running partner that she has to come pick up my 5’1 self because I fall behind after two miles at her long-legged pace. It doesn’t matter if I would have come in dead last at my half-marathon last weekend. I still would have been cheered on by every woman that ran across that finish line before me. In fact, Little Miss 8:20 stayed and cheered on all the other women who did cross the finish line. And I won’t lie, that was pretty cool. She could have been at home, showered, and catching a post-race nap by the time I crossed. But there she was, still cheering us all on.

So ladies, it doesn’t matter if you are slow. It doesn’t matter why you may want to try this out. It doesn’t even matter what running shoes you ultimately decide on (though I am partial to the Nike Pegasus). What matters is that you are out there with us, getting work done and beating your feet against the pavement, or the trail, or the concrete, or the sand. If you are thinking about getting out there, just do it! What have you got to lose? You already have a whole community in your corner cheering you on. So lace up your shoes, put on a kickin’ playlist, and join the club.

The ad will be out there forever: Members wanted – come as you are.