We’re in this together: The Hamilton Running Community

By Kristin Kwiat

In the midst of the coronavirus, we have all learned a new normal with social distancing, rationing toilet paper, making face masks, but most of all realizing that while we may be physically distanced from one another we are not alone.

This time has taught many of us the value of community and experiencing things together, like exercising, makes it even better. Running is so mental, so there are a lot of ways to rationalize not taking that first step, but meeting others for a run helps to keep that from happening. Knowing someone is waiting on you for a run helps ward off the temptation to roll back over and hit the snooze button, or skip a run all together. Talking with and getting to know other runners before, during and after a run broadens your running knowledge. Sharing stories, tips, routes, etc. all goes a long way in making the sport more interesting and enjoyable. People react differently when running in a group, some push themselves more, others are encouraged by the group even if they are a bit behind or have to stop early.

As a seasoned runner since 7th grade at Talawanda Middle School, Doreen Barrow shared that from the time she heard about the Boston Marathon, in high school, she had always wanted to qualify. Her first marathon experience was new to her and she had no idea what she was doing. She trained and ran it by herself and failed to qualify. A few years later two friends and she decided to give it another go, eventually they all qualified and ran Boston. Training for and going to a race with friends just makes the whole experience more fun. Running with a group showed Doreen it’s not always about what your watch says at the end of a run. Sometimes it’s okay to ignore the distance or pace indicator and just go by effort or enjoyment.

One of Hamilton’s running communities Doreen recommends is the Fitton Family Running Club. At the running club’s first meeting ten years ago, she met her running buddies, Tanya Lowry and Laurie Kile, and they have been running together ever since! It’s a very low key, beginner to elite running group that meets once or twice a week. Even though they are called the Fitton Family Running group, they also have walkers in their group, as walking is just as beneficial as running as long as you get your heart rate up. All paces, distances and abilities are welcome to train together. Also, there are no fees and they have several annual runs throughout the year. Most of the time the routes include a variety of distances and you can always find someone who runs your pace. They train typically in Hamilton but have also ventured out to Oxford, Ross, Harrison, Trenton and beyond. Currently, they are in the midst of a 100 Mile challenge, where you complete your miles at your own pace to earn the club T-shirt for $15. To join, find the Facebook page, Fitton Family YMCA Running Club.

Another way Doreen has experienced being in community with running is coaching cross country with one of her favorite running experts and dedicated coaches, Steve Connaughton. Steve started to become a runner when he began coaching cross country in Hamilton 28 years ago. Coaching expanded Steve’s active lifestyle to running consistently and learning more about it. Doreen shared she admires Steve’s passion for running just for the pure joy of it. Through coaching, Doreen has learned a new level of enjoyment to her running. Steve has seen firsthand Doreen’s creative energy and enthusiasm with her adult running group carry over to her coaching as she gives purpose to runs and offers fresh and exciting ways to enjoy a run. They both believe it is the community and relationships that are formed that transcend the running itself.

Through Steve’s coaching experience with cross country, he has found it as an avenue to build community and a positive relationship with a young person. While running, kids are able to open up in conversations since it provides a safe space with a caring adult. Running provides a consistent time for regular conversations to check in with kids or to just listen, opportunities to share a laugh or a special moment, and a chance to share advice or a life experience. Being a runner is about committing to something and following through. When kids find that they can commit to something, such as running, they find it also applies to school work, relationships, family life, etc. Even though runners are competitive, running groups and races exude a positive energy running culture, in which runners cheer for others and mentally fight with themselves to run harder, faster, and longer. Although Steve does not enter a lot of races, he loves the community atmosphere and adrenaline races provide runners, spectators, volunteers, and community members. One of Steve’s coaching tips to his athletes is to find a running buddy who is just a little faster to run with and will challenge both runners to fight for a position toward the finish.

Steve encourages middle and high school students to try cross country as a great way to connect with other people. It is an easy way to meet new friends and develop a life-long habit. As an adult, running with others has similar benefits, such as keeping you motivated, adding accountability and nurturing some great relationships. For some, it may seem too official to join a club, but running clubs tend to be very fluid. The commitment is as big as you want to make it. It can be as simple as finding a buddy occasionally or on a more routine basis.

As we all start to venture outside of our houses and back into the community, here are some of Doreen’s and Steve’s favorite running spots around Hamilton. Amberly Drive is a place Doreen could run every day and never get tired of it. It’s a beautiful view coming down D Street in any season. The climb up via Hyde Park or Elizabeth makes the tree lined descent even inspiring. She also trained for the Boston Marathon by running the Butler County Donut Trail. On the other hand, Steve loves the neighborhood by Cleveland Ave, which has a lot of different loops, or the bike trail. Hamilton has no shortage of hills. The bike path is another alternative that provides a relatively flat run. There are also a lot of nice trails in the area to run or bike like Rentschler Forest, which is a great way to get the best of both worlds. You can start at many different locations for a variety of distances. Steve’s favorite run is running without a plan and seeing where he ends up as he lets his legs do the work.

Hearing the pitter patter of feet hit the earth when running with others or a pet, reminds you that you’re not alone. Having a common love for running with others teaches you to sometimes struggle sharing pain and success as a great way to form a lasting friendship! Through listening to stories and experience from other runners, you can become a better runner. Being a runner doesn’t mean you log a certain amount of miles, run a certain speed, race a certain amount of races or have specific gear. It just means that you put on your shoes and start moving. When we run or walk together, we are reminded that we are not alone, but are in it together. We are stronger and better together.