Jo E. Rodgers

In my youth, I never enjoyed running. In fact, I absolutely loathed it. But after the “freshmen 15” found me, I tried my best to embrace it. I ran in spurts throughout my 20s as I transitioned through various training programs and stages of life, but I never committed to much of a routine nor any meaningful pace or distance, at least nothing to brag about.

After having my second child, a friend and neighbor invited me to join a small group of women for a run. The gathering was part of a training program offered by local running store. Little did I know that I was about to meet several members of my future running support network, my running tribe. As the training program evolved, several of the women started to add additional runs throughout the week. Given we were all working mothers, our runs were, and continue to be, primarily in the dark and quiet of the early morning hours. This affords us the opportunity to fit a workout in before our families awake and start to call our names. We can take advantage of the emptiness of the streets prior to the normal hustle and bustle of the morning commuters.

While we each run for a multitude of reasons, I know that we all appreciate being afforded some flexibility with calorie intake (who doesn’t like a slice of cake or glass of wine), and a special time set aside for some adult social interaction, as well as a heightened ability to tackle our jam-packed days in a more stress-free manner. The group provides accountability. The guilt of leaving your running partner stranded on a cold, dark corner at 5 am is insufferable. Admittedly, some healthy competition exists. We have challenged each other to run faster and longer than we ever imagined, to overcome injuries and refuse to be afraid to get back into the race and to be assured that “odds are everything is going to be all right.”

During our runs, we have also supported one another through numerous life stages and challenges: high school and college graduations, loss of loved ones, cancer and other illnesses and so on.

Did I mention that we are a rather eclectic group? Our network includes a statistician, French teacher, graphic designer, professor of romance languages, clinical trials coordinator, and pharmacist, just to name a few. Following our morning conversations, we feel as if we have tackled more before dawn than we would have otherwise during an entire workday. We are fairly confident that such continuous support has allowed us to solve many of the major dilemmas of our families, our workplaces and the world.

I never called myself a runner. But with the support of my master’s all-female running mates, I believe I may now officially qualify as one. And while some may come and go (include a few notable dudes), we always remain connected and continue to sustain one another. Without their unwavering support, patience for all my potty breaks, and constant encouragement and cheerleading, I truly don’t know where I would be with my running, and more importantly, where I would be in my life. I am confident they have made undeniable contributions to my being a better runner, wife, mother, daughter, teacher and more. I am truly blessed to have found my running tribe and I highly encourage you to find yours.

Jo Ellen Rodgers is a professor at UNC when she’s not running with her master’s all-female running tribe.