My husband & I became owners of a Fleet Feet Sports Franchise in 2016; our store opened in July of that year. Our mission is to be more than just a retail store, and one of the main reasons we chose Fleet Feet Sports was because of the community we experienced with other stores as we made our way across the country over the years. We wanted the opportunity to create a running community in our now hometown of Laguna Niguel, CA.
I, myself, am a runner. I started running in my early 20’s as a way to cope with a failing marriage (right out of college). I loved the way I felt after a good run; I loved the challenges that running constantly presented. It started with 5K’s, then 10K’s and I soon graduated to half and full marathons. Last year, I was training for what was to be my 10th marathon (Los Angeles); I was pushing myself to achieve my goal time of 3:30. My friend Dave, who is an accomplished Ultra Runner, was determined to get me off the roads on onto the trails. He insisted that I would fall in love with the dirt, the mountains, the natural beauty, the challenging terrain, and also, the “letting go” that naturally happens when running trails. My first run after LA was on a trail with Dave. I felt so slow! But with the hills we were tackling, I couldn’t even imagine picking up the pace. When we finished, and I looked down at my brand-new trail shoes that were now covered in a layer of dust, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I was excited to try it again.
Before I knew it, I was running the local trails every week, and soon enough, I found myself at the top of Santiago Peak (with Dave), a mountain I can see in the distance from the backyard of my home. He was right—I was in love. My running pace no longer mattered when I hit the trails; I found myself enjoying the moments, the scenery, the camaraderie on the trails…I found myself “letting go”.
I wanted to share this experience with others, and what better way to do that than starting a trail running training program at the store! I still considered myself a “new” trail runner, so I had a few doubts as to whether I could make it happen. We had built a solid community of runners at the store through our weekly fun runs, vendor demo runs, etc., but we had yet to have a successful training program. I floated the idea to a few ladies who consistently show up at our store runs…they were in. They expressed their interest in trail running, but also the fear and apprehension they had about going out on the trails alone. Apparently, they were not alone, because after a month of advertising the program, we ended up with a group of ladies who were ready to train for their first trail race, a 15K in September.
Our program is appropriately called “Happy Trails!”. We meet as a group twice a week. Though we are all women, we are a diverse group in terms of our ages, our backgrounds, our work and our running experience. After just a few runs on the trails, we learned the definition of “walking with purpose” on the climbs, that the first time running DOWN a hill can be super scary, and the feeling of finishing a tough trail run first thing in the morning is (almost) better than a cup of coffee.
A few weeks into the program, I discovered what “letting go” meant for these ladies. Many put in long days of work, yet they still show up for our training run on Thursday evening. A transformation occurs as they remove their makeup and lace up their trail shoes; the letting go of the never-ending “to do” list if even for just a short time. They might be exhausted from their day, but the chatter and catching up that occurs amongst these Trail Sisters is lively and animated. For some, this is the one hour of the day that they have carved out for themselves, and they are determined to make the most of it. Each week, I watch these ladies do what they once thought they would never be able to do; I am in awe of their determination, their positivity, and the “sisterhood” that has developed over just a couple of months. They share their water, their energy chews, their stories and a whole lot of laughter.
The trails we run are just a few miles from where most of us live, yet, it feels as if we are in a different world. Being out in nature allows us to be completely in the moment and to connect on a deeper level with ourselves, each other, and the universe. We don’t always run together, but we never lose sight of one another; the trails reduce the space between us, bringing us closer together.
Our program culminates with our Trail Joy 15K race on September 16th, however I believe this is just the beginning of a long trail running journey for many of these ladies. This program has challenged this group both physically and mentally, but with the support of their Trail Sisters, these ladies have found the courage to attempt things they never thought possible, just as I never thought I would be toeing the line at the Bulldog 50K in Malibu this past August. The words of encouragement from my new Trail Sisters carried me through the race, and I am so excited to do the same for them. There is no limit to what these ladies can achieve, especially with the support of the sisterhood on the trails.