Today was a big day. It wasn’t a celebration of any special running goals for me personally, or even anything remotely close to a PR, but it was a big deal for my running buddy.
I’ll admit it, I had never heard of Girls on the Run before in my life. I didn’t realize that this was an amazing and inspiring activity for young girls, all the way from elementary through middle school age, to get a chance to run, to train and to learn some of the most valuable lessons it took me years to discover – positivity, self-worth, dedication.
When I ran across an advertisement from our local Girls on the Run group, in search of running buddies, I was intrigued. I didn’t know what a running buddy was, or did, exactly. I just knew that something inside of me told me to check it out. So I did. And, boy, am I glad I did.
When you register, you have the opportunity to sign up for a specific school and/or runner. I elected to be assigned a running buddy randomly. The particular school I was assigned to caters to mostly low-income families. I have to admit, I was a little bit nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect, or how I would be accepted – if at all.
As a running buddy, we have two opportunities to meet and run with our buddies. My first meeting was at the end of October where the team at my particular school held their practice 5k. So far, the girls had been having regular practices twice a week in order to prepare them for a 5k run. When we met for the first time, they had been preparing for a couple of weeks.
When I met my running buddy – and we’ll call her Natasha – I couldn’t believe at the excitement buzzing around her and the other girls. They were looking so forward to meeting us and getting a chance to do this practice run.
After spending a couple of hours meeting the girls and running the allotted distance, I said goodbye to my buddy and anxiously awaited the big celebration 5k at the beginning of December.
Fast forward to December 2nd. It was a chilly morning, but not too bad. I dressed in my Girls on the Run running buddy t-shirt and set off across town. Apparently, I misread the information because the race wasn’t set to kick off at 8:00 a.m., but instead 9:00 a.m., with an hour-long festival beforehand.
However, I snagged a great parking spot and ran into a friend to chat with before my school arrived.
By the time 8:00 a.m. rolled around, the race start and festival area was brimming with students and running buddies. It was, well, inspiring. There were tents set up where the girls could get face painting done, make bracelets, get their hair dazzled with sparkles, and even a spot where they could decorate their race bibs. I sure wish they had this around when I was in school!
I finally met up with my school and my running buddy. Excitement was nearly bursting from the seams of each one of them. They were all anxious and ready to begin the festivities.
After taking a few photos, the girls were allowed to visit the various tents until it was time to begin the warm-up. The warm-up was a fun dance-style exercise where everyone joined at the front of a stage and danced for a good ten minutes.
Once we were all warmed up and ready to race, my buddy and I lined up at the start. Since this was her first race, she was incredibly nervous! She was worried she wouldn’t be able to make the distance, or that she would come in last. I had a moment where I remembered my very first race and had these exact same doubts. I assured her that even if we were last, finishing the race was the most important part.
We ended up teaming up with two other runners and their buddies. At the start, the girls always take off out of the shoot at a full sprint. After about a quarter of a mile, their little legs start to give out. We tried explaining to them that if they ran at a slower pace, they could keep it up the entire distance. They still didn’t seem to quite grasp that. After a little while, we started running a clock of 30 second intervals. The girls loved this. They even remarked at how fast the distance was moving by doing the intervals.
During the race, friends and family were lined up along the route. Their cheers and shouts of well done had our girls running with more excitement than I had seen before. It seemed like for the first time, my running buddy was finally feeling confident in her ability to do this.
As we rounded the last bend of the race, there was a hill waiting for us at the finish. But the girls didn’t even seem to notice this. They pushed forward with all the might they had and crossed that finish line with ease. I couldn’t have been more proud.
After the race was completed, the girls were welcome to stay and enjoy the festivities. Once I was sure that my running buddy was safely with her school, I decided to call it a day.
I headed home that morning feeling more accomplished than I had in a long time. I suddenly remembered how fun it was just to get out there and run. I reminded myself, once again, that being the fastest, or the best, didn’t really matter. Just finishing the race was the most important.
I certainly hope my running buddy learned something in this process, and that is if a girl sets her mind to something, she is unstoppable!
You can find your local Girls on the Run group by checking out their website at: www.girlsontherun.org