It’s taken me a long time to feel confident about calling myself A Runner.
Any longtime reader of this blog (*cough-my husband-cough*) may recall that I wasn’t really ever a “sporty” or athletic kid growing up. I swam on the neighborhood swim team for a few summers as a kid. I downhill skied beginning at age 3 and drifting off into oblivion sometime around my parents’ divorce and the onset of high school extracurriculars; such is life. I like going on bike rides, but I don’t even currently have a bike in my possession in Athens. I used to cross country ski a bit, but now we live in Georgia, so.
In school, I did not do any extracurricular sports. I never thought of myself as someone who had great hand-eye coordination, and had little interest in playing any sport that involved a ball. T-ball notwithstanding; I was definitely one of the kids sitting in the outfield playing with flowers. As my husband will probably be the first to point out, I actually can catch and throw a ball, and when the pressure is off, I’m okay at a few sports and games. But the pressure in school is always on. In gym class, I was the kid who was picked last for teams. It was a very good day if I was picked second to last. I ran 11 to 12 minute miles (I think – memory is fuzzy) in most of my mile tests in P.E. each year. That is, up until 9th grade, when the teacher wanted everyone to do well, and we sort of “trained” for the test by starting each class with a few minutes of running. I was over the moon about running a 9:15ish that year. That was really for all intents and purposes the day I became a runner, and in the coming weeks and months, I made it a habit, which eventually turned into a love. But I was never confident enough to join track and cross-country in high school or college. Or perhaps, the interest just wasn’t there yet.
The love deepened late in college when my dear friend and eventual roommate, Abby, taught me the joys of running with a friend, chatting about anything and everything so that the miles melt away and the time flies.
It was after college, though, that the competitor in me was born. Having just moved to Pittsburgh in summer 2010, Shannon roped me into my first few races, including the Great Race 10K and Shadyside 5K, and told me I could totally handle running the Thanksgiving Day half in Atlanta. I wasn’t super fast, and maybe I was only competing against myself – especially once my mom got me a Garmin for my birthday that fall – but a fire was lit. And there was no going back.
Even with its small size and sleepy college town vibe, Athens has a vibrant running community, one that is both inclusive and competitive. We felt welcome right away, and getting immediately plugged into the running groups – Monday night runs at Fleet Feet, Saturday runs with Athens Road Runners – is the #1 reason we felt so quickly at home here in Athens and made such a great circle of friends with fabulous people in relatively short order. They brought us instantly into the fold and made us feel like one of them.
The racing scene is huge here: there are usually a couple 5Ks being put on on any given Saturday or Sunday. Last summer in particular, we tapped into a lot of them, despite lots of travel and coming off spring marathon training. Getting to know the folks at Fleet Feet and checking out the racing scene, I kept seeing a certain singlet around, worn by members of the Fleet Feet Racing Team, a retail racing team that I knew existed at other Fleet Feet stores around the country in one form or another. I became friends with a few of the awesome people on the team, and always looked up to them: they placed high in races, were strong and competitive, and were also funny, kind, and welcoming. During one group run, I remember asking one of the team members who is also a friend, Catherine, about what the team was like and what it entailed, thinking to myself that I really would never qualify for such a thing. Catherine encouraged me to talk to Dustin (the owner of our Fleet Feet, her boyfriend, and a friend of ours as well) about it, but I hesitated. I thought to myself, maybe after I BQ… maybe then I could remotely qualify for such a team.
Then I sort of set it aside. I’m happily part of Oiselle Volee, just got an amazing new crop singlet to sport during hot Georgia summer races (aka every race in Georgia, pretty much), and was still in love with where I was in the running community in Athens. Life was good.
Fast forward to the week after Albany. I was entering serious Post-Race Blues. All runners know this feeling – even if we meet a goal, we still feel the letdown of “oh, that race I’ve been working towards for months is…over.” And since I had missed my goal, well, the crash was pretty hard. Work was picking up steam and keeping me busy, but I was still glum, and of course since I was recovering, I wasn’t running.
On Tuesday afternoon after the race, right near the end of the work day, my phone lit up with an email. From Dustin. Subject line: Fleet Feet Race Team.
I held my breath.
In the first line, he congratulated me on Albany (a sentiment I’ve gotten better and better at accepting with grace and gratitude and without rebuttal in the last few weeks – coming to terms with a race that didn’t go your way but still was a strong time is harder than it should be), then quickly shifted gears, inviting me to join the Fleet Feet/Athens Road Runners race team. What was once entirely a Fleet Feet time will now also represent ARR, a change reflected in brand new team singlets and logo. I barely contained a squeal from my desk in my office. I was invited to join a team! Me! The geek with glasses who was never on a team for ANYTHING ATHLETIC EVER.
Battling impostor syndrome and a huge grin, I told a couple people (including my husband) but kept it largely under my hat. Like I would scare it away if I told too many people; like I would jinx it. I filled out a couple forms from Dustin, and soon was added to a private Facebook group for the team to interact in. Earlier this week, this showed up on Fleet Feet’s website. The singlets are due to show up late on Friday, so I may have a chance to race in uniform at the Midnight 5K later that night, which my hero of a mom said she’d love to go to despite the fact that it’s literally at midnight. (full disclosure: if it’s raining we may not go, just so I don’t make my mom stand in the rain AT MIDNIGHT. That’s just bad daughter behavior)
What does this mean for my Oiselle team membership? Really nothing. I’m under no kind of exclusive “contract” with Oiselle – and in many ways – at least on paper – it behaves more like a paid membership with perks. The community of women it has connected me to is amazing, and I don’t plan on giving that up. Plus, Dustin has already asked if I could give him recommendations on what the store should order from the Oiselle spring catalog. 😉
But will I proudly be sporting the Fleet Feet/Athens Road Runners singlet at local and team races, and singing their praises as much or more than I have already? You betcha. Because never have I felt so welcome so quickly as a runner and a person than I have right here. Because a little over a year after moving here (and as Timehop reminded me on the exact day I got the email, a year since Shannon and I officially became dues-paying members of ARR), it’s already like family.