My Journey To Becoming a Runner

Abby Slauter, Sales Associate at Track Shack

I meet people in our store almost every day who share a similar story: “I used to be fit and then life happened and I got out of shape, but I’m ready to start again and get back to being fit.” These are often my favorite customers because I can relate, and I love watching others discover a love of running.

I was always athletic but struggled with some extra pounds and body image. When I had a baby in 2013, I managed to pack on 75+ pounds that I just couldn’t seem to drop like people kept telling me I would.  In late 2014, I decided I had enough of feeling out of shape and not recognizing the person I saw in photos. I recalled that I had once lost 15 pounds from slow jogging after high school and decided I was going to give power walking and slow jogging a shot this time.

I told my friend Erin, who had started running a couple of years prior, that I wanted to lose weight and feel strong again.  My husband bought me a fitness watch that would track my steps and heart rate, and I started walking with Erin a few times a week.

My friend and I walked while I pushed my toddler in her stroller. We moved slowly at first, as I found out when my friend would call out our mile times to me. Although we were slow, we were covering some ground. The distance part was never hard. I really got into seeing if I could beat our previous walk’s time and the different mile splits on my friend’s Garmin watch. One day, I decided to run for a couple of blocks. My friend told me she could not run that far when she had started a few years ago. “Really?” I asked in disbelief, mistakenly believing that people who were runners were always runners and had some sort of endurance gene that I lacked. “Really,” she told me. Maybe I could do this, I thought.

Enter Track Shack.

Eventually, Erin started trying to get me to join the cult of running by telling me if I would pick a race to sign up for, she would do it with me. Runners are like that; we are all on such a runner’s high that we will do whatever it takes to get our friends to join us. One of those options was the Lady Track Shack 5K. Once I heard there were going to be pink participant tutus involved, I was sold. Before I ran my first race, I did not understand why people did that sort of thing. Didn’t these people know they could run for free almost any other day? But, once I participated, I got it. Races celebrate run culture. Sure, some people compete and win. But, for most runners, the race is about the camaraderie and challenging themselves. I liked having an officially timed event. I liked the race swag and got a lot of use out of my race shirts. I liked the after party where I got to make new friends and enjoy samples from different vendors. But, mostly, I liked the community of people. I decided I wanted to sign up for a 10K. I registered for the Winter Park Road Race soon after.

Shortly after I completed the Lady Track Shack 5k, I decided I wanted to keep trying this to see if I could get a little bit faster and start running more than I was walking. I was flipping through a local newspaper and saw an ad for Track Shack’s Zero To Fit program, which was really affordable and convenient for me. I figured even if I didn’t stick with running, it was a commitment to fitness twice a week for 10 weeks. I needed something to keep me accountable, so I signed up that day.

I had heard Erin mention going to Track Shack for shoes. Babies change a lot about your body- right down to your feet. I decided it was probably a good idea to get some good running shoes if I was going to give this running thing a real shot. “Oh, yeah. Track Shack!” my cross-country runner husband echoed. “You should go get fit there! We got all our shoes there in college.” At the time, I had no clue how tied into the local running community Track Shack is, or how involved the Track Shack Youth Foundation is in our local schools, but I figured if the cross country team went there, it must be pretty good.

“Running is a social sport,” Coach Bob declared on our first day of Zero To Fit. 

“Um, what? I came here to get away from my family for an hour. I’m a hot mess when I try to jog. You want me to try to make friends while I’m panting?” I thought to myself. I decided that while I was on this kick of trying new things, I would try telling my inner Negative Nancy to be quiet and give this a real shot. If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.

So, I talked to the other participants while we warmed up and cooled down. I did my training. I rolled my eyes dozens of times when Bob made me try hard things, but I sucked it up and did them anyway and became a better runner and a better person for it. At first, I ran lamp post to lamp post, and then I started timing the intervals. I became addicted to both the results and how good running made me feel, even if I didn’t feel like I qualified as a real runner yet. (Spoiler alert: I did.) I decided I was going to add an extra run or two on my own each week, and the next thing I knew, I was running full miles and getting faster. Along with some dietary changes, I also lost 50 of the 75 pounds I had gained during pregnancy that first year of running. I lost another 25 the second year, and am holding pretty steady at 95 pounds below my highest weight. However, what’s really changed my life is that it is no longer about weight for me. I started running to lose weight, and while I still believe in being a healthy and fit version of myself, I now run for many reasons that have nothing to do with what my scale says. As a runner, I’ve gained a lot, too.

I’ve gained friends. I’ve gained confidence. I’ve gained muscle. I’ve gained an appreciation for hard work, dedication, and teamwork.

Running challenges me. Running has taught me that you can’t fake hard work. Running has brought some amazing friends into my life. Running has helped me stay healthy and gain a ton of confidence. Running has helped my anxiety and ADHD and mood more than anything else I’ve ever tried. Running has regulated my sleep cycle. Running is my therapy; running is my BFF.

Eventually, I outgrew Zero To Fit and developed some loftier goals. Fortunately, Track Shack has a training program for almost every kind of runner, and four years later, I’ve run with most of them. Now I split my time between MarathonFest, our distance training program, and Five and Dime, our speed training program. No matter which program you run with, your coaches will work with you and provide a training plan that will help you reach your goals. I love that each of our programs has its own smaller family of runners. You will find people in every group who have been part of it for years and are on “the lifetime plan,” as one friend recently called it, and you will also find runners who have never trained with a group before or set foot on a track. All of our coaches are excellent and will give you training tips and support you on your journey. The veterans you meet will reassure you that you’ve made the right decision in showing up. Whether your goals include a 5K or an ultramarathon, it is much, much easier to go the distance with your training buddies by your side. Four years ago I could not have imagined running 10 miles ever, and now that is my Saturday morning routine. It is often a highlight of my week. Each time I have tried a new group I have been intimidated by the unknown, and each time I have been entirely grateful that I stepped out of my comfort zone.

It turned out that Bob was right. I made a really amazing set of new friends when I found Track Shack and became a runner. Runners are driven people, and driven people tend to be interesting. Logging the miles with interesting people makes for some good talk and some great friendships. Even more than fitness, the community that running has given me has been the most valuable thing of all.

I started a fitness and running Instagram account (alessflabbyabby) the beginning of my journey as a runner in 2015 and eventually connected with many other local runners through our shared love of fitness, running, and all things Track Shack. What started out as a way for a stay-at-home parent to not go crazy during the toddler years turned into a surprisingly cool social network and way to track my progress.  I stuck with my training and went farther and got faster. One of my proudest moments as a runner was in 2017 when I was asked to join Team Track Shack, and the friendships I’ve made from that have been my favorite part. It’s weird but awesome to go from non-runner to competitive runner on a team in a couple of years, but it is proof that you really can do amazing things if you are willing to work for them. I ran for the team and served as an ambassador for two years and got to know my fellow team members and some of the staff. I loved running and working with Track Shack so much that when I was ready to send my daughter to school and go back to work, I joined the staff! You will find me in our retail store, blogging, and helping teach our free Good Form Running clinics. I have been there for a little over a year now and continue to serve as an ambassador for our races and programs.

At this point, I have a lot of different running accessories, but I want to tell you about a few of my favorites.

Without a doubt, a good pair of shoes that are properly fit to your feet and gait is the most important thing you need when you get started because it minimizes your chance of injury. I am often asked what the best brand of running shoe is, but there is not a universal answer to that. Different feet have different needs, but we are happy to talk with you and recommend shoes especially for you.  I tell people every day that your running shoe size is probably not your street shoe size, so it is a great idea to get fit by one of our experts. Many people have a favorite shoe, but both shoes and feet change over time, so I recommend trying a few each time you get fit. I tend to have several pairs in rotation that I wear for different runs. I find this actually helps me get more life out of the shoes because the foam has time to decompress between runs.

My second running essential is my Garmin smartwatch. Because I like to see data and numeric progress, the amount of training data my Garmin watch gives me is priceless. I am able to track my heart rate, sleep patterns, run splits, see maps of my runs, and share this information with my coaches and friends. I can track tons of other information through the mobile Garmin Connect app and participate in fun challenges. I currently have the 735XT triathlon watch but I am thinking of upgrading to one of Garmin’s latest models with music storage. Since these watches pair with Aftershokz wireless headphones, you can leave your phone at home and still listen to music on your run if you choose one of the watches that supports music. Not just a runner? Garmin watches track a variety of other sports, too, so you can keep all your training stats in one place. We have everything from a basic watch to one that will generate a running route and locate water stops for you. Come talk to us if you’re in the market for a new watch to track your workouts!

Good running clothes are indispensable. We just got some new Lululemon and Oiselle apparel in the store- two of my favorite brands- but we carry other top running and athletic brands, too! A good sports bra is another must-have item for women. Did you know too much movement in the chest can actually affect your arm carriage and running form? Weight gain and loss, pregnancy, and many other things can affect bra size, so come get fit if you haven’t been sized recently. I love the HeadSweats visors to keep the sun off my face and sweat out of my eyes. And, no running outfit would be complete without a good pair of moisture-wicking socks. I really like our Feetures, Balega, and CEP, and we carry a wide selection that will help minimize blisters and irritation.

Speaking of irritation, my next favorite product is BodyGlide Anti-Chafe Balm. Body Glide is a summer lifesaver for those of us with thicker thighs or anyone with sensitive skin. In fact, it is pretty much the coconut oil of running. Chafed thighs? Body Glide. Irritated skin from clothing contact? Body Glide. Watch rash? Body Glide. Squeaky insoles? Put some Body Glide on them. Relationship problems? Well, it can’t hurt to try Body Glide.

As I have ramped up my mileage, I have become a big fan of compression socks for both running and recovery. On my longer runs, I like to wear my CEP Full Run Socks and leave them on for a little while after my run while I stretch and eat to maximize the recovery benefits. We see plenty of people working on their feet all day who like the compression socks for their medical benefits, too. While this is not an essential for all new runners, compression is definitely something I feel has aided in my recoveries as I have progressed.

Whether you are a newer runner, an aspiring runner, or a seasoned veteran, come by the store and talk to us about your running needs and concerns. We are all runners who are happy to advise you and help you reach your goals!

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