I hate running.
Don’t get the idea that I actually really enjoy running because it’s currently “en vogue” to say you don’t work out and only eat pizza but still look toned and fit somehow — I really, truly, only eat the pizza. I can’t run a mile. I can’t hold a conversation walking up the two flights of stairs to my train stop.
But I guess it’s a little more nuanced than that. When I say I hate running, what I want you to read is:
I hate how I feel when I’m running.
I hate that I can feel all of the extra weight on my body that’s slowing me down.
I hate that I can’t breathe and feel out of control.
I hate that I feel weak.
I hate that, as body confident as I am most of the time, running makes me feel (in my own vicious self-talk) fat and pathetic.
When I run, I hate myself.
So you can imagine my less-than-jazzed response when my editor told me, at the time forearm deep in a share-size bag of M&Ms, I’d be training with the Nike Windrunners for an afternoon. Anything involving “Nike” would so unlikely also be involving me, so training with the kickass force that is the Windrunners? Oh, no.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Nike’s famous “Just Do It” tagline, and to commemorate those decades of changing the way we see athletes and physical activity, they’ve launched experiences and programs around the country. In Chicago, where the Just Do It rally cry is loud and strong, Nike brought together 13 of the city’s top female runners and empowered them with specialized coaching from two of their Master Trainers, some amazing gear, and a community of other women all training for marathons who are, as one Windrunner put it, “the same kind of crazy.” Next up on the schedule is tackling the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 7.
These women run. It’s their sport, their passion, something they dedicate not just time to but whole lifestyle adjustments — earlier bedtimes, particular diets, training at weird hours of the day to make this love of theirs fit with their very average schedules of work and family and, you know, life. For some, this is their first marathon, for others, it’s just another race – but for each of them, their dreams are what’s driving them and their pure grit is getting ’em there.
As anyone who talked to me a full week before the training session would tell you, I was pretty anxious. I don’t like working out around people I know and trust — I didn’t go to the gym my entire senior year of college because I was so nervous I would see someone I know and, worse, they would see me for the “fat and pathetic” person I really am — let alone these strangers who could, quite literally, run circles around me. I was prepared to be embarrassed and just get the whole damn thing over with.
But, part of me was also curious and excited to meet the Windrunners — how can something that heaps so much insecurity on me be so empowering for them? What am I missing? Who are these women?
Abigail, the Everygirl’s Social Media Editor and my hypewoman/pageant mom for the night, and I showed up to On Your Mark Coaching and Training where we met club owner and Nike Master Trainer, Emily Hutchins, and six of the Windrunners. Over the next hour, with the encouragement of these powerful women and some killer Nike gear, I planked, hopped, lunged, and did basically everything but run right alongside these athletes. Here’s everything I, a self-proclaimed ne’er-runner, learned from training with Nike’s Windrunners (and spoiler alert: my life changed just a little):
We All Start Somewhere
As fit, fast, and badass as these women are now, they were quick to remind me that they all started somewhere. “Growing up, I was always the shortest, clumsiest, least athletic person in my friend group. I was a B-Team kid,” Tara M. told us. For Kate F., running was a way to lose weight — “I took an Intro to Jogging class my senior year of college when I was 40 lbs heavier.”
As I could just barely keep up with them through this half-hour training session, I felt relief and even camaraderie knowing that they, too, have been right where I am. The difference between us? They didn’t stop – they embody “just do it” to a tee.
Master Trainer Emily’s favorite part of the entire training process is the very first day: “Watching someone move for the first time — it’s kind of like watching a baby deer; one, they don’t know what to expect, and two, it’s just interesting how people aren’t in tune with how they’re supposed to move and function. To teach them how to get better is the fun part.”
Great Gear Actually Helps
Quick honesty moment: I’m a big athleisure fan, and pretty much 100% of my current workout clothes are made for looks and that’s about it. When I got to the gym, a full outfit — shoes, running tights, sports bra, the works — was waiting for me. And let me tell you that I’m burning all of my trendy “athletic” gear now that I’ve worn something that’s actually designed to help my body function at its best.
One of the reasons running feels way too hard for me is because my sports bras are not as supportive as I need them to be. They’ve got a big job to do, and the second I put on the Nike Alpha sports bra and jogged in place in the locker room, I knew that this was going to be different. I didn’t have to worry about adjusting anything or my back being sore later. In the words of Kate, “nothing is moving.”
I’ve been wearing Nike sneakers forever and my old pair I’ve had for the last four years. Sure, they didn’t have a ton of miles on them, but I was ready for an upgrade — and upgrade I got. The Metcon 4 LM provided the perfect cushion and fit — Nike’s shoes are Becca’s favorite piece of Nike gear — for me to feel light on my feet but also well- supported. Plus, they look pretty freakin’ cool.
The Sculpt Lux tights are possibly the newest love of my life. They’re high-waisted, compressive, and sweat-wicking, aka once they were on my body, I didn’t have to think about them or my tummy or hiking them up again. Except to check myself out in the mirror and think about what a badass I looked like in my sleek all-black (hey, it’s kind of my thing).
Not Everyone’s Goals Are the Same
I learned that the 13 women are running a variety of marathons, and since they’re all coming from different backgrounds, they’ve all got unique goals for themselves and their races. “I’m trying to run this marathon in under three hours and five minutes — which would be a PR for me,” said Kate, who’s running the New York marathon.
Becca, who ran the Berlin marathon in mid-September, had a totally different frame of mind: “I’m coming off of ultramarathons and trying to work on my speed — and also overcome this hamstring injury! So my goal is to get through this marathon as healthily as possible.”
Walking into the gym, my goal was, very simply, to not embarrass myself. I wanted to not throw up from exertion and to not cry in public when my negative self-talk got too loud. Vague “goals” like that are a recipe for judgment and anxiety. What qualifies as embarrassing? That’s a completely external goal that’s almost out of my control. I didn’t want to spend my entire session overthinking my every move, wondering what the other women thought of me, so I decided to make tiny, attainable goals.
When we did ladder drills, I wanted to make sure my last rep was 100% — so whatever it took in the reps leading up to that last one, I would do. Sometimes that meant going more slowly to learn the pattern or putting my all into a rep just to mess it up and look a little silly. But every time, I hit that 100% in the and I felt pretty proud of myself, no matter the little mistakes along the way.
Setting goals that are unattainable or undefined is setting yourself up for pain and feelings of failure (trust me, I know). But I set such lofty goals, like “be perfect,” because that’s often easier than committing to something tangible. If I can’t name it, I can’t fully try it, and therefore I can’t fail.
Kate resonated with that feeling when she officially wrote down her marathon time goals: “I had to ask, “Do I really want to put this down on paper and commit to it?’” And then all her Windrunner pals cheered, “yes!” because even though they each have different goals, they’re working toward them together. There’s always a new goal or dream to chase, and for each of the Windrunners, they’re eyes-locked on their prize. With the support of others, it can be easier to fail, because you know you’ve got an army of people who care about you ready to encourage you onward.
It’s About the Hard Work and Focus
I expected these women to work hard, obviously, but even still I underestimated them. I was already floored that they wanted to run 26.2 miles, but the months and months of training involve so much more than just running.
The workout I joined in on focused specifically on strengthening the core and working on speedy footwork, and many of their sessions with the trainers — twice a week, with long runs on the weekend — are cross training. “Cross training helped a lot: I’d go pool running, hiking on the treadmill, and these strength classes with Emily and the girls have helped me keep my sanity even when I can’t run,” Becca told me. “I’ve noticed so much more power and speed, even with my injury.”
To lose a minute or build the endurance to run that long that fast requires more than just grit and doing the same thing over and over. These women are pushing their bodies to their physical limits every single day, every single session – and Nike is right there next to them telling them what to do and that they are powerful enough to do it.
Runners are so prone to burnout, physically and mentally. “We so often think that if we just run more we’ll get better and better — but injuries definitely teach you patience,” Tara said. It’s both a long game — “If you train hard and train smart, anyone can have a long career running,” Emily said — and a very moment-to-moment game. Every run, every training session counts.
I loved seeing this in action. After every single set of moves, Emily would take a knee and ask us what we felt. Which muscles are working? Do we understand why this is helpful? After a long plank series following our ladder drills, Emily asked if we were engaging our core to keep us up. When we didn’t give her the resounding answer she wanted, we did it again, focusing all our attention and energy on our abs (or lack thereof, if you’re me).
In the moment, it was hard for me to see how this was going to help them run a marathon faster and better, but as part of a days and months-long program, the hard work they’re giving today will keep them healthy and speedy during race day and beyond.
But when the runs are long and the training gets grueling (which is often), the trainers like to remind them to be present: “Don’t be thinking about sore you’ll be tomorrow or how you went so hard yesterday — no. Even if you’re not doing the same thing as the next girl, be there for everyone else and focus on one thing at a time.”
Because everyone is coming from such a different place with different goals, everyone’s definition of hard work and focus is different. My 100% is nowhere near the 100% of Becca the ultramarathoner — but I can recognize her hard work and cheer for her, and she can do the same for me.
For Tara and Kate, starting from the bottom and being here, now, training with some of the best American female runners, is a testament to their dedication and hard, hard work. “If you’re going through hell, keep on going. Not every athlete wants to hear that, but it’s true.” Emily tells them when they’re right on that edge of giving up. “Head down, suck it up, enjoy the journey.”
The “keep going” part is hard for me. I completely ignore what my body is capable of and what it’s currently doing in favor of my anxiety and what I’m telling myself — “you can’t,” “you’re not strong enough,” “because it hurts you should stop.” I’ve got a little Emily voice in my head now — and in the Windrunner’s heads, too, they told me — reminding me to just freaking do it. Sure, I can’t run a mile, but I can run one more block, and that matters.
Physical Activity is Damn Empowering
Every conversation I had with a Windrunner told me the same thing — that I (you, me, we) can do so much more than we ever imagined, and it doesn’t stop on the treadmill. “Running has helped me learn more about myself and what I’m capable of. I can do more than I ever thought I could. That kind of confidence carries over into work and life in general. It’s rewarding,” Becca says.
I used to always be put on the B-Team for sports growing up, and I defined myself and my life as just always being on the B-Team,” Tara says. “But now I’m in control, I’m on the A-Team! Having athletic accomplishments makes me feel super empowered and really proud of myself.
Trainer Emily loves these personal growth and empowerment moments, too: “I love watching people excel and helping them become the best versions of themselves.”
For Kate, her story has been empowering to others, which in turn, fuels her confidence on and off the track: “This started as a weight loss journey for me, and it’s all about finding out what works for you. People tell me that my story is inspiring, which has motivated me to really see anything I want to do as possible, even outside of running.”
The only purpose running has served in my life — a markedly unhealthy one, I’m quick to admit — is to make me lose weight and to make me feel like I can’t. When I asked Emily why she thought running was empowering, her answer totally shifted my perspective: “Because anyone can do it. Doesn’t matter if they have one leg or two. It can change people’s lives. Any marathon has lots of different people in it; that in itself is empowering. You don’t have to be a professional. I love that anyone of any age can run for a lifetime.” She, and all of the Windrunners, see running as a blessing, something that makes them say “I can” rather than my constant chant of “I can’t.”
In a larger sense, Emily pointed out the crux moment we’re in for this sport: “The American women who are winning races right now are empowering for the future of the sport. Being a part of it is super freaking cool. Being involved as their fan and their coach is so empowering, at least for me.”
They’re Super Real People
I think my perception of athletes is still stuck in middle school gym class, where the “athletes” went way too hard at touch football and made us non-athletic folks feel pretty bad about ourselves.
These women were exceedingly kind. From the moment I walked in, their community and care for each other were evident, and they made me feel right at home. They laughed with each other when they couldn’t figure out the ladder drill patterns — “nothing like watching adults run in non-linear patterns,” Emily joked — they asked questions and complained and encouraged one another and needed water breaks.
“We’re such normal people, we’re just trying to fit all this in. I have birthday celebrations on weekends and I don’t know how to do that and also my long runs,” Kate said. “We go through the same struggles that everyone else does and we’re figuring it out like everyone else.”
I found so much of myself in these women: they have regular jobs (everything from an animation student to a bilingual coach) and favorite foods (Kate and I share a love of fried rice) and they get tired and burned out. They’re making it work, just like the rest of us. They just happen to be doing it together, a group of people who are the “same kind of crazy,” as Tara put it.
The Force is Female
Nike didn’t want to just create 13 individually successful athletes — they wanted a community, to make a team out of a sport that relies on individuals. And boy, did they succeed.
“It’s such a tight-knit and welcoming community, always building each other up and supporting each other. It’s like one long adventure with your friends,” Becca said. Tara, who is experiencing her first injury, is looking to Becca for how to deal, and to the rest of the team for support. “I’ve learned so much from these women,” Tara said. “It’s given me a group of role models to look up to and people to learn from.”
Kate was initially unsure of the whole team-training thing — “I thought running was an individual sport, why would a team benefit me?” — but after months of training and laughing and racing with the Windrunners, she loves her community: “it’s become so evident that when I’m struggling or working through a hard bit, there are all these other girls that are going through the exact same thing. You learn from them and their struggles — and can totally celebrate each others’ wins! We can help each other strive towards their goals. It’s so great.”
This band of women and learning to see each other as teammates first is spilling out into their lives and into the sport in general — Kate told us about seeing one of her friends out on a run training for her own first race and the immense joy she felt about sharing this love of her with her close friends.
Emily sees this as another step forward for women as a whole in running. “They [the Windrunners] represent women in sport and how women are taking over,” she told me. “They’re all so talented. Any one of them has exceptional potential to run at an even higher level than what they’re at right now. They’re empowering for young athletes growing up and watching these girls perform at an extremely high level.”
I walked out of my hour with the Windrunners dripping in sweat and grinning from ear to ear. I was surprised, at what my body could do despite my mind telling me that I couldn’t, at the passion each of these women has for running, and at how damn empowering it felt to put myself way out of my comfort zone and (pardon the pun) just do it.
So, the big question: do I love running now? Mm, no.
But, am I working on loving myself despite my discomfort while running? Yes.
I’ve got Emily’s voice in the back of my mind saying, “Head down, suck it up, and enjoy the journey.” The Windrunners taught me that the power is in the effort, and the results will follow. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some miles to (so very slowly) put on my new Nike sneakers.
This post was in partnership with Nike, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everygirl editorial board.