I've only been running somewhat consistently since about April of 2014. My initial goals had been fairly simple: 1) don't die (probably a good goal to have in any activity, really); 2) run a 5K (and don't die while doing it).
But since becoming a runner, and meeting and surpassing those initial goals, I've had to develop new ones so that I remain engaged in the sport. So I would set new personal record goals for myself and work toward taking time off of my 5K race time. I still haven't met the goal I set 2 years ago, to finish a 5K under 26 minutes, but I've been close and I'm sure I'll get there. I set a goal to not throw up after a race anymore, and that I have met thanks to Benjamin. So I've got that going for me, which is really a good thing for anyone within a close distance of me at the finish line.
Now I've moved on from quicker race times - and by the way, I'm not trying to win anything. Occasionally, 4 times to be exact, I earn a medal in my age group, but I'm really just trying to improve my time from year to year for each race. I've moved to trying to increase my distance. Up until this summer, the farthest distance I had run was probably 3 1/2 miles. That was until I joined the Salt Shakers.
I had been invited to join the Salt Shakers for years by my good friend, Dina. But I was intimidated. These guys are hard core. They run up the sides of mountains - 5, 6, 10 miles. A lot of them (including my brother in law and Benjamin) ran the NYC Marathon. They do Spartan races and Ragnar races. Like I said, hard core. I didn't think trail running was something within my wheelhouse, having limited myself to 5Ks on fairly even ground or at best the flat and straight "rail-trails". There's always the asthma too.
It took meeting Benjamin and creating an excuse to see him late this summer to get me to attempt my first trail run with this group. At first, I took it easy and did just over 3 miles with a few of the "injured" members of the group. But the next run, I figured I would at least attempt the full 5 miles and maybe walk if I had to. One of the nice things about trail running is that you have to slow down at times so that your run becomes more of a hike anyway. Needless to say, I completed the full 5 miles and now I was hooked.
The runs are challenging for me as a newbie, but equally as wonderful as an evening trail run, is the group itself. Some of the most supportive and generous people on the planet. They cheer you on, they wait for you if you are falling behind the pack, and are always finding ways to give back to community groups. And they are so much fun. To congratulate ourselves for a job well done after the run, we head to the bar for a beer (or 2). What's better than that?
The Salt Shakers are a large and diverse group - men, women, younger, older, runners, walkers - and besides a love for the outdoors and fitness, the other thing they all seem to have in common is a desire to help others. Whether it's through raising money for non-profit groups that offer free breast cancer screenings or volunteering as coaches for the Girls on the Run program or taking a day to clean up the trails, these guys give back.
I've always found that true athletes have a different mind-set than your average dude at the gym. True athletes know they didn't get where they are without the help of a lot of other people and so many of them have a natural instinct to help not only their fellow athlete, but their fellow human. Maybe some of the professional guys have public relations as motivation, but they still do it and they still do good things.
But I am also finding that these trail runners just do it a little better. Perhaps it's because everyone knows running is the worst. It sucks in so many ways. It's hard on your body, first of all (talk to my right knee and shins; they'll tell you.) and it's hard on your mind. There is a constant battle between the you who is saying "Ok, this sucks, I hurt, I'm done" and the you saying "Come on, you can do this." Runners all know that, so when they cheer for you and encourage you, they also feel your pain.
I'm lucky because I have a sister (who also happens to be an elite athlete) who runs with this group. Since she's coming back from a really bad injury, she has to work a little harder to get to where she once was, physically. Mentally, she knows that she can "do it."
And she was my inspiration this Sunday as we joined a group of cold-weather Salt Shakers for the Highland Challenge. Now, my sister and I only attempted about half of the 9+ mile, up a mountain, full course, but it was still more running than either of us had done in months. (And we ended up adding at least .5 miles to our run because we missed a turn on the trail and had to go back). My sister knew she could tackle this run and I figured, if she can do it coming off a broken ankle and very little exercise because of it, then so could I. And if I couldn't, at least she was there to carry me off the snowy and freezing trail since Benjamin was running the whole course and would probably be traversing the side of the mountain, while I was complaining.
Well, I ran the entire 5+ miles and stayed close to my sister the whole way. When we weren't running together, I took deep breaths and took in the beautiful snowy trail, the fresh air, the flowing water of the Morris Canal. A few of us were running close together (because we all missed that first turn off the road) and so we would wait for one another to make sure no one got lost. I loved every moment of it.
Upon returning to the home base (the bar), we all greeted one another with "how was it?" "how did you do?" and "great job today." And there was great beer on tap.
I'm grateful that I finally took my friend's advice and showed up this summer and that Benjamin also encouraged me to try. I'm grateful that my sister and brother in law are there to motivate me. And I'm grateful that this group is so welcoming, giving and wonderful. I'm looking forward to longer days, more sun and the trail this summer with this group.
Ps. Although I did feel it necessary to carry my inhaler because of the below freezing temperature we were running in, I didn't need it! So, there's that too!