About a week after we moved to Brunswick County, one of the partners at Coastal Race Productions reached out to see if I’d help with the beginning running program.
I’ll get to 5 things I learned during my experience in First Strides as a running mentor after telling you a bit about this women’s program….
What is First Strides?
Established in 1997 as a community program from staff at Rodale Press/Runners World Magazine, First Strides is an interval based walking and running program created by Jane Serues, who was in Pennsylvania at the time but now resides in Myrtle Beach SC.
As if being founder doesn’t make her cool enough as is, Serues is part of the first group of women who were invited to the 1984 Olympic trials to run in the first ever women’s Olympic marathon.
Only 20 years prior, it was widely believed your uterus would fall out if you ran long distances as a female.
We have Kathrine Switzer to thank for that nonsense belief getting thrown out the window.
Then, women like Jane normalized running for recreational athletes and beginners. First Strides, open to women ages 12 to 112, is a fruit of their labor.
What’s the program like?
First Strides prepares women for a 5K over the course of 10-12 weeks.
Participants begin with a workout of one minute of hard effort and four of easy effort for a total of 1-2 miles (depending on fitness level).
Each week, the ratio is incrementally changed and the overall volume increased.
At the end, the ratio “flips” to workouts of one minute easy, nine hard. Participants log between 3-5 miles.
Hard and easy are defined by the individual- meaning, women at various levels of fitness can do First Strides at the same time.
It’s not as simple as programming, though.
First Strides requires an in person session weekly. Each week looked like this:
- speaker from the community – topics for us ranged from safety to fueling to a chat with the program founder herself!
- large group warm up
- workout with small groups determined by pace and fitness level
- large group cool down
Research has proven the in person component important for mental wellbeing, as we’re on the heels of a pandemic that has changed our social lifestyle outright.
What did I learn as a mentor?
I learned a number of things as a mentor for First Strides, which meant I led the large group in warm ups and cool downs and paced one of the small groups, the “Cheetahs”.
Here they are, in no particular order:
1: Enthusiasm counts
Real talk: I am not the most talented group exercise leader.
I have a certification, but if you were to ask me to rate myself on a scale of 1-10 in terms of skill, cueing, and mechanics? I’m probably a solid 4. On a good day.
Enthusiasm counts, though.
I had fun when I was on the amphitheater stage in front of these women and I wanted them to know it!
We laughed about hip circles being a “sexy move”.
We sang happy birthday to members as a way to buy time in a static stretch.
We joked about lack of balance and flexibility, then applauded ourselves for our honest effort.
2: It’s easy to show up for the things you care about
I am a Mom to four elementary school aged kids and have a full time job- not exactly dripping extra time.
Since we cannot make more time, sometimes you have to eliminate other things to make room for what you want to do- for me, that was the podcast.
I took a hiatus.
It’s a passion project and I no longer have the financial pieces it historically supported.
Plus, there are no rules in podcasting. It was low hanging fruit.
So often as Moms, we try to find time for things rather than just eliminating or pausing other commitments.
If you’re struggling with your schedule, I’d encourage you to make a priority list first and swap out your yellow or red items instead of adding to an overall list (that overwhelms you in the first place).
3: You can help someone by just being there
One night, nobody else in our small group showed up so one of the participants got a one on one run with me.
Can I be honest? She’s one of our strongest runners and the entire four miles I thought, “I’m not really doing anything” only to find out later she wanted to quit a mile and a half in, but didn’t because someone else was there.
Read that again.
Just because someone else was there.
Nothing special was said.
No top secret form cue or bark to push harder.
You don’t need a special title or skill set to just be there for someone else.
4: Mindset is Everything
By nature of this program, participants break down big goals (12 week program, overall workouts) into manageable pieces (week by week, interval by interval).
It’s a mindset thing.
You’ve either got 3 miles…or 9:1 three times.
About halfway through our program, I had a health scare.
Like, a “let’s send it for a biopsy” kind of scenario.
Everything is fine (praise God!), but here’s the connection to mindset:
I had some real moments in the uncertain zone where I felt absolutely paralyzed – breaking down moments by day, hour, and activity was necessary.
That’s the kind of mindset lesson you learn in individual sports like running and programs like First Strides.
And it’s a transferrable skill.
I had practiced it so many times through running, by the time I needed the mindset, breaking down the large scary thing to small segments was instinct.
5: There’s always someone behind you “on the line”
I have a mentor who references “the line” a lot.
She talked about it on the podcast in business terms but I think it’s another idea that transfers!
The concept is this:
When you level up, something that comes with it is a responsibility to help others “behind you on the line.”
So, as an experienced runner I have a responsibility to new or getting-back-into-it runners to share what I know and help not because I expect something in return…
…simply because I’m in a position to help. It’s a blessing and a way to show gratitude is to serve others.
Kind of like “paying it forward”.
I personally prefer “the line” because I visualize a line for running.
Or maybe faster, more talented runners at a race.
Rather than be jealous, I can look to these women for inspiration!
Of course, there are also people behind me. Maybe they’re looking to ME…regardless of whether I know it or not. As an ambassador of the sport, I owe it to the community to lend a hand.
.…simply because I’m in a position to help.
We all started at the beginning. And if it weren’t for someone ahead of us helping us out, we might not be the runner we are today!
If you’re experienced, I encourage you to think about ways you can serve your own community or individuals behind you on “the line”.
It is an investment that guarantees return. Like First Strides!
I’d also love to hear lessons you learned in 2021 through running or the fitness community. Drop me an audio note to tell me!
When I’m not recording the podcast, hanging on the beach with my Husband and four kids, I’m over here: