There is something special about a sport that forces you to rely solely on your body to move forward. It requires you to focus on what your body can do without the aid of a stick or a ball. You can do it alone and listen intently to your own footfalls on the pavement or rocky trail. You can run with others and share in the difficulty and flow that you experience. You can enjoy the feeling you get when your mind forgets that your legs are moving you across the distance and all is at peace.
There is something special about this sport. Whether you run fast or run slow or walk-run or run-walk, whether you are a beginner or veteran, maniac or maybe-I-can kind of runner—there is something in it for you, especially as a woman.
I know personally that running can change your life in a myriad of ways. It creates a connection with your physical being and provides deep knowledge that comes from learning to trust your body to carry you with vitality and grace. You use your legs, your core and your arms to propel yourself onward.
You become stronger in areas of your life that are not even physical.
All too often, women take on the largest share of family care, extending themselves further and further until they have nothing left to give. Our bodies, spirits and mental health suffer. This suffering sometimes manifests itself as overwhelming and debilitating fatigue, chronic illness and physical pain. It can also mean succumbing to lifestyles and choices that are ultimately destructive to our personal livelihoods.
But when a person has the opportunity to re-learn or learn for the first time her own personal value and strength, it can be powerful. It can be a force that forever changes her life’s trajectory. And if it has that effect on her, it will likely change the lives of her entire circle, including her immediate family and friends.
What Is Running Start?
This is exactly what happens to most women that participate in Running Start, a program founded by Nicole DeBoom, CEO and founder of Skirts Sports. Nicole, a former professional triathlete, started the program because she realized that there were women in the Boulder, Colorado area who were facing challenges that seemed insurmountable. Some had “lost their way” or “lost themselves somehow” and needed a coping mechanism and method to start healing themselves.
Some women were dealing with the loss of children or spouses. Others suffered from chronic illnesses—both the physical and mental kinds. More still dealt with complex issues that included all of the above, topped off with homelessness and chronic joblessness.
Nicole decided that she wanted to reach out to women who often reached out to her with simple questions, like, “How do I start running?”
She knew immediately what to do and started assembling a program that aimed to help women using the tools she knew best. Using sports, the program now known as Running Start helps women set goals, establish an accountability system, mentor others and strive to accomplish something significant. Running Start also provides participants with fitness apparel for training and a race kit for the 5K race that concludes the program.
Meet Sarah Marquez, a mom of three and recent graduate of the Ready to Work program at Bridge House, a social services facility based in Boulder with a mission to create a “culture of opportunity for homeless and low-income adults.”
Sarah, 34, comes from a family culture based in drugs and alcohol. In the last year, Sarah was desperate for a change. She regained custody of her youngest boy and was working toward a better life that included stable employment and health. Isabel McDevitt, executive director of Bridge House, connected Sarah with the Running Start program. Suddenly, a new runner was born.
Each woman at Running Start is paired with a mentor (a personal motivator and seasoned runner) responsible for checking in often to ensure that their mentee is training for the 5K that closes the 12-week program. The mentors serve as compassionate listeners, cheerleaders and simply as other human beings that understand the struggles of becoming a runner.
How Does Running Start Help Women?
Running Start is focused on helping women create habits of health and wellness that are sustainable, flexible and realistic. The women are encouraged to run or walk three days each week with one day of cross-training and one day of active fun (such as jumping on the trampoline with your kids or running another day—if they’re up for it). The idea is to reframe fitness as something that’s fun, not torturous. Fitness becomes a priority in their lives.
Sarah had just finished a mandatory drug treatment program and was working as a cook through the Ready to Work program. Being able to continuously improve herself was a boom to her spirit and livelihood. She worked hard to continue improving her life. In the process, she re-energized her relationship with her son. But she noticed that all she was able to do after work in the evenings was rest. There was no energy left in her tank by the end of the day, so she spent entire evenings resting. Sarah needed something else to help her regain energy and focus–a goal, perhaps; something that would be structured and help her health. She’d never had the opportunity to focus on her health before, and she was ready for the challenge.
At the beginning of Running Start, each woman is asked to choose a word that represents their current emotional state. Sarah’s word was “scared,” a word that eventually morphed at starting line of the 5K that served as the end of the program. Sarah was concerned about staying committed throughout the process. “Every time I trained, my brain wanted me to quit,” she explained. “It would have been so much easier to sit down and quit than to follow through.”
Through the 12-week training schedule that was developed by DeBoom herself, Sarah learned to run. By doing so, she also learned to take care of herself physically, emotionally and mentally. She grew to appreciate the accountability that was expected of her, even when the workouts overwhelmed her. Sarah reminded herself daily that her training was more difficult than her drug treatment program and probation had been. This wasn’t mandatory; stopping wouldn’t land her in jail. She had chosen to continue her self-improvement and healing in this way, and she could see and feel the results.
Oh sh*t, I’m about to do this!
At her last Running Start meeting, right before her first-ever 5K, Sarah’s “scary” transformed into, “Oh sh*t, I’m about to do this!” Up until then, she had always felt like she was a product of her family, that health and fitness had no place in her life. But Sarah had wanted to achieve this, and here she was: about to accomplish a huge goal.
“It was surreal,” Sarah said. “My son came to see me run and he saw that now this is what mommy does. He’s definitely proud of me. I’m proud of who I am.”