When you become a runner, first it’s all about you, your progress, your goals. But then you realize there’s a whole big community out there consisting of other runners. People who share the same passion as you that other people just don’t understand. You find yourself growing closer to them because of this connection that you have as runners, and suddenly running is about more than just you. You begin to have a desire to support others, and become invested in their journeys and the progress they make. It’s a beautiful thing!
One day I had a random idea to recruit some friends of mine to be ‘wing women’ for a big local half marathon that takes place in my area called the Historic Half. I had a vision of us wearing costume wings, positioning ourselves on the toughest parts of the course, and helping our girls get up the hills and to the finish line. I posted about this idea of mine on two local Moms Run This Town groups and got a great response from both the people who were running the race and the people who weren’t, but wanted to volunteer. And so my “Wing Woman” idea came to life!
I have run the Historic Half a few times before and continue to run parts of the course all the time since it’s not far from where I live. Because I was so familiar with it, I knew exactly where the hardest parts were and where the runners would need the most support. This race is a little evil in that the first 10 miles are mostly flat with some hills, followed by 2 miles of huge/steep hills, and ending with a flat final mile to the finish line. It is a beast of a race and course and requires a slightly different strategy than other half marathons, because you really need to make sure you conserve energy for those last and hardest 3 miles of the race. Knowing this, we planned to have a group of ladies waiting at the first hill, infamously known as “Hospital Hill” – which is a long, slow climb. Another group (including myself) would be at the hill that followed, which was shorter, steeper and in my opinion even harder since you’re pretty done at that point in the race!
Our crew gathered bright and early in Fredericksburg sporting our sparkly wings. We arrived as the race started so we got to see all the runners off as they passed by. As we waited for more people to show up, some of our ladies headed down to the hills so that they would be able to catch runners who were doing the 5 mile race. We didn’t want to leave anyone hanging.
Once everyone had arrived, we hurried over to the base of the second and final hill of the course. We watched and cheered for the 5 mile runners, and saw the first half marathon finishers come through making it look effortless. Not too long after that, we started seeing our ladies come through!
We had posted about what we were doing ahead of time, so our friends in the group knew where to find us and to call out to us if they wanted a ‘wing woman’ to run with them up the hill. It started off a little slow, but soon enough there were so many that it was hard to keep up with the demand! We easily ran with at least 30-40 people that day.
Every woman that we jumped in and ran with was so happy and appreciative. Their faces went from looking pained and tired to lighting up when they saw their Moms Run This Town tribe there for them. I was also excited to be able to support two runners that I’ve been coaching since December. I almost missed my first one, Pandita, because I was running another person up, but caught her right as she neared the top and told her to turn the corner, get to the finish line and get her sub 1:50 half marathon goal. She finished in 1:49:55.
Shortly after I saw Dina, who was looking strong and confident. When I jumped in with her she asked me to run her all the way to the finish line (another mile away) and I couldn’t say no. She has been working on her fast finishes and this race was no exception. She went from not thinking she was going to make her sub-2 hour half marathon goal, to finishing in 1:58:23. To say I am proud of these two incredible, hard-working women is an understatement!
At the end of the day, I had run 7 happy, amazing miles of hills with friends that are very special to me. It was such a great morning. Afterwards, we heard from many people who said that seeing us wing women was one of the biggest highlights of their races. I was so glad that we could help and that I could give back a little to this wonderful community who has been supporting me a ton over the past few months.
I think we are going to need to make this wing woman concept a tradition at all the local races!