360 YOU: How to serve the running community

As a new runner, what I needed was a mentor: someone who would let me know that this journey can be an emotional roller coaster at times, someone who could give me the secrets and tips to help me progress, and someone who would just guide me along the way encouraged. When I started I just didn’t feel like that was out there in my training group. It felt very competitive and exclusive. It felt like everyone was out for themselves – and making progress was something you had to find out for yourself.

This is not an environment for everyone to thrive. We grow up in environments where we are watered and nourished. For me (and many others) running is best in community – in a family environment where we look out for each other and cheer each other on along the way.

That’s a big reason I got on social media. When I finally made progress and learned the sport, I was so excited for every little nugget I learned. I wanted to share it with anyone who would listen in hopes it would help them walk too.

That was what I craved when I started and that’s what I’m trying to give now. I think it’s so important to give the community what it is she needed in one place.

Running can feel like we’re out there alone dreaming, and sometimes we can feel stupid – or be thought stupid – for having such big dreams. So much of what the community should do in a sport is say, “Actually, you’re not at all crazy about dreaming big and seeing the endless potential in you.” We question our goals enough in our heads. It’s so helpful to have friends and mentors who encourage us during these difficult days and highlight the potential they see in us.

This is what I was so hungry for as a new runner. I wanted someone to talk about my potential. I felt so silly to even think that I was worthy of hoping for Boston or dreaming of a Sub-3 marathon someday. I remember telling my then-boyfriend (now husband), Tyler, about some of my big dreams, like running a sub-3 marathon – and he said I could do it, and without missing a beat, I said I could run an Olympic qualifying marathon one day. That’s when he was a 2:36 marathoner who was also hoping to run a 2:18 OTQ marathon (he ran that and ran the Atlanta Olympic Trials).

Sometimes we need other people to speak life into our dreams and be our cheerleaders. If you feel you need this, then be it for someone else.

The biggest thing that helped me stand out from the success of others was the realization that “a rising tide lifts all boats”. The success of others does not diminish mine. Iron sharpens iron and we can work together as a community to foster a great success that everyone can be a part of. I don’t have to guard my running secrets; I have found that by generously sharing what I know about what has helped me improve, I have also been the recipient of others pouring generously into my life.

Since encouragement is something we all thrive on and benefit from, we must do so generously with others. If you see potential, speak it out. When someone tells you their dreams, speak life into them and encourage them. Be a safe place for someone to share their biggest dreams. Better yet, offer to be a partner in dream hunting with them.

Opportunities to give back to the running community

These are three easy ways to get started.

At your running club

I love running clubs and running groups to get involved and share and pass on what I’ve learned. Mentoring another runner, being a friend of a new runner who joins the club, offering to run at any pace for runners who might need someone to run with them in group runs—these are just a few of the ways we do something meaningful can return way.

We want running to be the most inclusive sport possible, and that starts with each of us being welcome and happy to share the sport in a way that makes someone feel comfortable.

Support non-profit organizations

Groups like Girls on the Run are a great way to give back, encourage and mentor younger runners; You can donate money or, even better, donate your time to be a trainer.

Back on My Feet Uses Running and Fitness to Fight Homelessness; Every $1 donated results in $2.50 worth of economic impact.

If you’ve recently seen Shalane Flanagan and Alexi Pappas act as guide-runners and are interested in doing it yourself, Achilles International is always looking for volunteers to run with its members to “act as eyes, ears, guides and… act as a motivator for a member”.


Volunteering at races and runs in the park is a really great way to serve the community. We all benefit greatly from all the volunteers we’ve had over our years in racing – seeing a race from the other side can help you really connect to your favorite track and be fully inspired for your own running as well. There’s nothing that puts me in a better mood than cheering on runners and being disconnected from their race day.

I want to challenge us to find a way to give something back. If you’ve benefited from someone who encouraged you and invested you in your dreams, do it for another runner. There is so much good that can come from working and dreaming together. Our collective potential is unlimited.

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