Last spring I decided to run. When training for racing, you are commonly asked what is your “why”? My answer to that question doesn’t have much depth and, truthfully, it doesn’t compare to the other inspirational stories that I’ve encountered along my racing journey. I run for mental clarity and for the time to simply breathe. The reason I race, however, has a different explanation and it starts with the community.

Rewind to a couple of months before my first training season…It was winter and I spent most of my days either working or exercising in a variety of different fitness studios in the area. I loved it. The change of scenery from the corporate world was refreshing and my lifestyle took a complete 180. I enjoyed watching my body transform according to my efforts, and the friendships I created revolved around one common interest, wellness. The more committed I became to my new found lifestyle, the more I sought out challenges and diversity. Spring was approaching and my excitement for sunshine and more time outside grew. I kept my ears open at the gym for outdoor activities that would challenge and motivate me throughout the next season. My racing friends suggested that I join the J&A Racing Fall Training Team.

I always considered myself a runner. I participating in fun runs in Panama starting at the age of five and I played field hockey in high school. After high school, I ran several 5K races and even completed the Shamrock 8K. Running was always a part of my life, but the thought of running a long race wasn’t an idea I had ever entertained. I knew I had to up my training program if I wanted to run longer distances and I never doubted my ability to do it. But did I want to do it? Did I want to run 13.1 miles? Not really. What I did want though, was to be part of the running community.

My desire to be part of the “WolfPack” reminded me of a teenage girl sitting on the sidelines yearning to be part of the “IN” crowd at school. Okay, take out the mean girls, the bullying, and all other negativity associated with the stereotypical cliques and what is left? Confidence. Empowerment. Strength. Camaraderie. I wanted IN.

Overall, I had a great training season! I paid my dues and immediately started reaping the benefits of being a team member. My training plan was sent to me a month in advance and I received daily reminders of the activities I was expected to complete. I attended most of the team runs (twice a week) and community events. My progress reflected my commitment to the program, which surprised me as I never assume the role of the overachiever. Unlike other commitments that had me contemplating my participation, showing up for J&A was easy and I found myself chugging the kool-aid fairly early into the season. I was #hooked!

I’ll never forget the week when I looked at my training plan and the expected run for that Saturday read “10 MILES.” Ugh. The days leading up to that run, I admit, were not fun. I didn’t want to do it and I complained inwardly and curled my upper lip every time I saw “10” displayed on my running app. The only positive was that it was scheduled on a team run day, which was smart because I doubted my motivation to finish on my own. Reluctantly, I showed up, ran the 10 miles and, to my surprise, it was fairly easy! Yes, easy! Finished. Sweet. I did it. Yay me. My skip to fetch water was interrupted with hugs, high fives, smacks on the butt, and a blast of ice cold water over my head.

The Rooted Hook 1/2 marathon training

Team: “Nicole, you just ran your first double digits!”

Me: “Oh, yeah! I did!”

Team: “Nicole, let me grab a photo of you in front of King Neptune! Now hold up ten fingers!”

Me: “But you ran 10 miles, too.”