Last year, my number one Trail Sister moved from Iowa City, Iowa to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Julie and I met while training for road marathons in 2012 and both became interested in running trails and ultramarathons at the same time. We were both at each other’s first ultras and supported each other at subsequent 50-milers and 100-milers as crew members and pacers. But it was our countless training runs where we became true trail sisters. To have a friend who wants to run for hours every weekend at the crack of dawn is pretty special. When she moved, I realized I’d been taking it for granted.
After Julie left, I found myself thinking about how to get more women on the trails – selfishly, to have more female trail running buddies – but also to introduce more women to trail running. I decided if I wanted more women on the trails, then I needed to create the opportunity for it to happen.
In June of 2017, the “Iowa City Trail Sisters” running group was established and over a year later, I’m happy to report we’re still going strong. First of all, thanks to Gina for letting me use the Trail Sisters brand to organize! I’m here to tell you what worked, what didn’t, and how to make it happen in your area if you also find yourself thinking, “I wish I had more trail sisters!” Here are a few things to think about when starting a regular group run:
I think it’s important that people know exactly what to expect at an organized group run, and for IC Trail Sisters, women can expect an easy run where no lady is left behind. I have this pinned to the top of our Facebook group so every woman who checks out the group will see the following message right away: This group was created to foster a welcoming, fun, and encouraging environment and community that inspires women to run trails. These are “no lady left behind” runs so please do not worry about speed. The goal is not to see how fast we can run. It’s about getting out on the trails with kickass gals.
Have a specific day and time that you meet and stick with it, unless it’s clearly not working. This one was hard for me at first because I wanted to please everyone – to ensure we were working with schedules for working women, moms, etc. Realistically, we all know that coordinating schedules for dozens of women is impossible. I chose a day and time that worked for me so I could “lead” runs the majority of the time. Here’s what we do that has worked pretty well for us: we meet once a week on Thursdays. We alternate between 5:30pm and 5:30am every other week and meet at different trails to help vary schedules and locations. There are some women that just cannot do evening runs or morning runs so switching it up every week seems to be helpful to reach the most amount of women.
Having as few barriers as possible was important to me. I did not want schedule, speed, and distance to be an issue. I addressed how to overcome schedule and speed barriers above, and I think I’ve found a good way to address the distance barrier, as well. I created routes that were two 3-mile loops, meaning we do a 3-mile loop and end back at the parking lot. Those who only want to run three miles due to time or that’s all they want to run can peace out, and then those who want more go out for another loop. Ta da!!
We use a Facebook group to organize runs. I create Facebook events for every run and try to have them posted the Monday before to get on everyone’s radar as they’re planning for the week. I also have a group text for those ladies not on Facebook. I will admit I sometimes forget the text and also have been known to not create the Facebook event until the day before. I will be the first to admit I’m not perfect!
The Facebook group is also helpful to organize other runs, share upcoming races, or if someone is looking for a running buddy on other days. We’ve also organized a few other events – a weekend hike and a group run that started/ended at a local brewery.
Pretty much anytime I meet another lady runner, I tell them about the Trail Sisters group runs and invite them to join us. Don’t be shy!
A few other things I’ve learned that may be helpful:
- If I know I’ll have a larger group, I’ll recruit a “caboose” who knows the route. This person is responsible for being the last runner so no one gets left behind or lost.
- It may seem overwhelming to coordinate a weekly group run but once you have a consistent day/time, it’s really pretty easy. And of course, you do not have do weekly runs – could be monthly, every other week, etc.
Over a year later, and I would say it’s been a pretty successful and incredibly fun endeavor! Don’t get me wrong – we don’t have 20 women showing up at every run, but that’s not really the point. Every Thursday, I know I’ll have at least one other awesome woman to run trails with – and sometimes up to 12! It’s been an absolute blast to meet and run with so many kickass women and to help foster a sense of community among this seemingly random assortment of ladies.
While I haven’t created an army of ultrarunning goddesses, I’m hoping that as some of these women learn more about the sport through myself or other ultrarunners in the group, they’ll start to think “I could do that.” Showing women that they can 100% run ultramarathons if they want to is the first step to increasing female participation in ultras, which is another topic but intrinsically tied to what we’re talking about here – creating a supportive community for women who want to run trails.
PS. For the record, I still miss Julie a ton! As many of you know, nothing can replace your number one Trail Sister!
I’ve been wanting to start something like this for a few years now but specifically night trail running for women. It’s my favorite thing to do, put on a headlamp and go, especially if it’s raining! But when my TS is busy, i often go alone. I’m never scared and have never had a problem and i only realize it’s not the safest choice when people react like I’m nuts when i tell them about it. However many times the second reaction is “id kinda like to try that but…” and i realize if they just had someone to show them… maybe i should be that someone. What keeps me from doing it is the stress of choosing routes, every week, especially ahead of time. I barely know what im running until I’m there. Any suggestions for that? How often do you change the routes? How do you know what is too hard or not challenging enough?