For the Joy of Running: Building Community

These are my hopes and desires for the running community in Hampton Roads, where I currently reside.

Leaving Hampton Roads Running

In 2007 when I went to college and started to drift away from the Hampton Roads running community.

I left a community that had so much potential.
I left a community that was on the precipice of something that would be great.
I could see the seeds being planted of a running boom not just in Hampton Roads but across the country.
I returned to a community that knew running was more than just times.
Running was about getting together, moving together, and having fun together. 

The biggest drive behind all of this has been how local runners have become empowered to be leaders and to help others learn about the joy of running. We have been able to see awesome feats of strength and speed, and we have been able to see passion and persistence pay off. It has become a community not defined by who won but by the sheer mass of people who will log miles in some way each week.

What started as a group of 15 people in 1972, who cared so deeply about running that they formed the Tidewater Striders Run Club, has grown to become hundreds (if not thousands) of people participating in dozens of races, groups, meetups, and other running and movement opportunities. With nationally recognized clubs like Tidewater Striders, Peninsula Track Club, and Colonial Road Runners paving the way and laying the foundation, we have seen more groups and clubs meeting across the area to bring awareness to running in the community. 

As these clubs began to plan races, we saw the birth of great races, and thereby great race-directing organizations like J&A Racing, Flat-out Events, and others. All these steps work together and have the impact of bringing joy to runners. This joy then gave birth to helping others find that same joy in their running or walking pursuits.

As one of the oldest and largest running clubs in the country Tidewater Striders became the focal point of all this growth, but it has been a willingness of all people in the community to step up and take part in growing this community. 

Running Then vs. Now

Fast-forward to 2020, when I moved back to the Tidewater region:

I began to seek this great community that I had heard about since I left. The races I remembered were still there (in fact there were so many more), but I did not want to wait for the races (especially during COVID). I took it upon myself and I began looking for groups to be a part of. I found so many groups and opportunities, but unfortunately, none felt close enough to me for me to be actively involved. This led me to form a group closer to me that I could be active. With support from all over Tidewater and so many of the clubs, groups, and organizations, I have watched what becoming a community around running and movement could do. 

This all became a catalyst. I wanted people to know this joy of running through the community that has been formed around it. 

No matter where you look across Hampton Roads, there are awesome places to get involved, to engage with running, and even the area itself is becoming so much more runner-friendly as more trails are being built and safer places are being created for these gathering opportunities. This has led to a wonderful opportunity for many of us and an idea I am proud to embrace.

I am proud to be an “AMBASSADOR FOR RUNNING!”

Until I became more involved in this community, I had never really considered this as a true role one could live in. It is true, I have always loved running. I have even told people about it and gone as far as encouraging other people to do it, at whatever pace they are comfortable.

It was not until I became a J&A Ambassador earlier this summer, that I was truly encouraged to not only take on this role but to take it seriously. For many it is not even about trying to be fast, instead, it is enjoying the experience and sharing that joy with others. In the first gathering I attended as an ambassador, Jerry Frostick, one of the founders of J&A Racing, encouraged us to be “ambassadors for running,” and the phrase has stuck with me ever since.

Motivations run the gamut in the running scene, but I want to know when I am at the start line that I am having fun. I want to gather with friends and strangers and know they are enjoying themselves on the run as well. Do not get me wrong, I do hope to get faster, and I enjoy competing for age group awards. However, if I am being honest those are just a nice byproduct of the joy of running, I experience. 

Ambassadors

At this ambassador kickoff event, Jerry not only mentioned the role we carry as ambassadors for J&A but for all of running. Yes, we have a role to help promote and let folks know about J&A racing, but we were encouraged even more to help people find that same joy of running that had brought each one of us to that room.

I asked both Jerry and Amy Frostick why this was so important for their ambassadors to not solely be responsible for promoting J&A, but to take a more active role in promoting running as an activity that is enjoyed by such a large community. They did not hold back when they connected it to their deep love for this area and this specific running community in Hampton Roads. They want us to connect across the area, to be present, and to show others how much we enjoy running and help them find ways to enjoy it as well. 

This is something so many of us, whether J&A advocates or not, can get behind. The skeptic in many may think they are in it for the money, but the purest and hopeful optimism sees the impact their races have and their engagement in the community as an opportunity to connect. What I can say is that there is a deep sense of care for the running community. Honestly, it makes no difference which organization, group, or club you participate in, we want to know that you are enjoying running. 

Sharing the Joy of Running

I loved that Amy noted that as they look for ambassadors for their ambassador program, they look for people who have that joy of running. Even Jerry noted that they do not look for speed or the best PR they want to bring out that joy. They want to know that the running community is cared for. There is so much good that can happen when we root ourselves for that joy of running.

We have so many opportunities for this joy to be lived through the community. To see all this community has become since the founding of Tidewater Striders in 1972, and the even greater growth I noticed when I returned to the area after being gone over a decade. From the groups and clubs that meet, up to the numerous races that happen over the year, the Hampton Roads running community, has always envisioned itself to be just that…a community.

A community of people who love running and want to help grow running across the area. 

I am proud to live into that legacy of early Tidewater Striders that laid the foundation. I am proud to be a part of a run group that puts community above all and helps focus discover and live out that joy. I am proud to help an organization that has offered this community opportunities to not only test our abilities but to fall deeper in love with running. We, today, continue that legacy by sharing our joy and experiences of running. We can get lost sometimes in being the best, but one thing Jerry told me was, 

“The emergence of more community-driven individuals to voluntarily lead run clubs has provided more opportunities for people to experience the benefits of running/walking. Now runners of all shapes, sizes, and paces can improve their physical and mental wellness, confidently set realistic fitness goals, and share accomplishments and setbacks with like-minded individuals. My hope for the Hampton Roads running community is to keep the positive momentum that it has been building post-pandemic. We need Run Clubs to continue to support each other. We need to continue to make running/walking, at whatever pace, attractive, rewarding, and fulfilling to all individuals and most importantly, keep fitness fun!”

Jerry Frostick

The Dream

I want this dream to come true. Whether you run a 15-minute 5K runner or an hour and 15 min 5K runner. Whether you run or walk. Whether you can complete 26.2 miles or stick to the shorter distances. There is something for everyone in this community. Let us bring out the best in ourselves, not in our speed, but in our joy!

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