How Community Running Changed My Life

By Katie Merrill, member of FHR since August 2013

Community running completely transformed my life. Bold statement? Yes, but true just the same.

Growing up I never felt fit or in shape. Running wasn't something I ever considered doing. It was something my more athletic friends did. Even when I made the varsity tennis team in high school and started going to the gym, I stuck to the elliptical machines, feeling that the treadmills just weren't where I belonged. It wasn't until my junior year of college that I started to run, a little bit at first, and then more as my confidence grew with my aerobic ability. Studying abroad, stripped of the American gyms and elliptical machines, I had no choice but to run to stay fit. Though I struggled greatly that year, one thing grounded me, my running. When running I felt something I couldn't describe. Was it accomplished? Was it athletic? Yes, and yes. Most importantly, I felt strong. I could do something that was physical and tiring, and I could literally feel my hard work. I could keep going farther and faster to feel stronger and stronger. That December, after working myself up to a routine 7-mile long run on Sunday mornings, having never run a race before, I decided I would run a marathon.

It was a wonderful and exhausting experience that left me craving more. So I ran another one the following year. There was something in the training and racing that just made me feel like no matter what else was going on in my life, I was accomplishing something. Over the next few years, running became part of my identity, and my way of coping with the difficulties life threw at me. Through my first (terrible) job after college, grad school, the crumbling of my college relationship, and numerous other breakups, a good long run was one of the few things that kept me sane.

Then, in the summer of 2013, after another marathon that left me with an injury (one that prevented me from running for two months- hello mini identity crisis!) and another failed relationship, I felt my life was hitting a plateau. I was employed, I had a master's degree, and I had some good friends; but I had to face the fact that I just wasn't happy.

I was still running of course, but similar to how I was chained to the elliptical in my early college years, I was reluctant to mix-up my heavily fortified schedule of weekly treadmill runs. Sure, I trained for my long runs outside on Saturday mornings, but I always ran alone, determined to keep my own pace and planned course. (A few times I even logged 10+ miles on a treadmill- not recommended). For years my mom had been trying to get me to find running friends. I would go home for the weekend and while driving to the grocery store we'd pass a few runners on the road and she'd exclaim "LOOK AT THOSE GUYS! You should figure out who they are and run with THEM!" The fact that they were a state away from where I lived didn't seem to matter to her. I needed running friends and here were people who ran.

She wasn't the only one who tried to get me to branch out of my schedule and meet new people. One of my friends from college, who I also lived with for a year during grad school, thought I should join a running club. She started dating this guy who ran a lot, and they eventually got married and moved to Jamaica Plain, which she promised was not as scary as my Boston Irish grandmother had described it. They started going to runs here and there with a running club in JP. Her and her husband would have me over to dinner or drinks on the back porch, and sooner or later the idea of me coming out to a run would come up in conversation.  For a while I just wasn't confident enough or ready to commit to a running club.

In July 2013 that changed though. As I mentioned, I wasn't happy. I was lonely. I turned to running for help, as it had supported me through so many other challenging points of my life. I texted my friend and told her I was ready to come out for a run, but only if she would agree to come with me that Saturday at Stony Brook. I remember that first run well. It was 9am (earlier than I was used to running on the weekends) and warm. There were only a few of us that day, probably 6 or 7 people who I had never seen before. I remember talking to them throughout the whole run, and feeling those 6 miles speed by. At the end of the run we went to J.P.Licks and I felt like I had just met some pretty awesome people, who also loved running! I vowed to go back the next week, and to also check out this thing called "November Project" that one of my other friends had been trying to get me to go to. I went to my first hill workout the following Friday (my first EVER hill workout- as in, before November Project I had avoided hills at all cost). That morning before work, I found that there was a whole community of people who were just as crazy about running, and willing to get up in the early hours of the morning to get a good sweat on.

The following day I went to the Saturday run with Forest Hills Runners again. I met even more people, and learned about their lives while roaming along the Muddy River. I had no idea this beautiful park was a mile from my apartment. Why had I never run through here before?!  I started making the Saturday morning FHR runs part of my routine. In doing so, I met a whole new group of fun, smart, athletic, and positive people who all inspired me in various ways. I also had my first runs through Franklin Park and the Arnold Arboretum, accompanied by people who knew the routes and kept me safe while exploring these new places. Feeling more confident, I started to attend Tempo Tuesday and Track Thursday nights as well. I was surprised how much I liked running on a track! (I had never done this before either, since I never ran track in high school.) As the weeks went by I grew stronger, faster, and HAPPIER. Suddenly, I knew people in my neighborhood. I was making new friends, which is a hard thing to do in your late 20's. I finally had people to go to races with, people to carpool with, and train with.

Almost a year and a half since that first run with FHR, I feel like a different person than that lonely runner I was in 2013. I have PR'ed my 5k time three times, and have now set a new goal for 2015 (sub 22! I think I can, I think I can...). I have run a 200-mile relay while sleeping in a van, done half marathons in the freezing cold, and completed back-to-back races in one day. I have run for beer, donuts, and brunch (Hey-yo Boston Brunch Runners!). I have run stadiums, hills, and steps that end in a minute of burpees (and more beer). I have met some absolutely amazing people, cheered for them while they race, and know that they will be there to cheer me on as well. I currently co-lead the Wednesday night run with an awesome guy who did an IRONMAN (now THAT is inspiration), and get to do a heap-load of other fun stuff for my FHR family as well.

On my second run with FHR, I also met a tall, speedy looking guy, who wanted to do an extra minute of plank with me. We now live together with our dog and cat, and talk about running all the time. (That last part is a joke...kind of).

In conclusion, community running transformed my life. It made me aware of my potential. It made me grateful for my talents (not just in running!), and I am continuously inspired by the many talents of those around me. Whether it's Forest Hills Runners, or one of the many other running clubs in Boston and beyond, running with a community provides a support system that is priceless. Don't go it alone. Pick a club and a day and just show up. I guarantee you won't regret it, and who knows? It just might change your life.

- Each week we will be updating this blog with personal stories from fellow runners, race recaps, training tips, recipes, and more! If you are interested in becoming a blog contributor, please contact Katie Merrill at merrill.kathryn@gmail.com for more information. And remember, as Owen says, Be Amazing! -

Posted on December 15, 2014 .