Approximately 5,000 runners hit the streets of Birmingham this weekend for the annual Mercedes-Benz Marathon. WBHM contributor Javacia Harris Bowser recently started running with one club that’s training for the race. But this group — The Birmingham Track Club — sets an even more ambitious goal for its members: Run 1200 miles in one year. Bowser wanted to try it, but had some reservations. While she’s been running for almost four years, she tells WBHM’s Rachel Lindley that, even after finishing half marathons, she still doesn’t feel like a real runner:
Running and I have a complicated relationship.
I’ve completed two half marathons and so many 5K road races that I’ve lost count. Yet, I am still reluctant to call myself a runner. First of all, I’m slow. Very slow. Also, because of a connective tissue disease I was diagnosed with in 2008, my doctors insist that my training and races consist of walk/run intervals. When getting in my miles, I run four minutes, walk one minute, repeat.
I know I’m doing better than the average couch potato, but when you see people completing the Mercedes Full Marathon in less time that it takes you to complete the Mercedes Half Marathon, you start to feel like a fitness fraud.
But the Birmingham Track Club might make a real runner out of me yet.
The Birmingham Track Club is a nonprofit organization that encourages running/walking participation for all, regardless of distance or pace.
Founded in 1979, the primary purpose of the Birmingham Track Club is to educate Birmingham-area residents of the health benefits of running, jogging, and walking.
In 2008, BTC started its 1200 Mile Club challenge. The objective is simple — try to run 1200 miles in 12 months. If you succeed, you get a fancy running jacket that boasts the Birmingham Track Club logo and a 1200 Mile Club badge. This alone is enough motivation for me.
But I’m also a woman who loves a challenge. In 2014, I challenged myself to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, every day, for 365 days. And I did it! In 2015, I’m challenging myself to walk/run 1,200 miles. I am certain this accomplishment will finally make me feel like a real runner.
To walk/run 1,200 miles, I’ll need the support of a group like the Birmingham Track Club. The BTC meets for runs at the Trak Shak every Saturday morning.
I revealed to former BTC president Jennifer Andress that I’d been intimidated to run with the Birmingham Track Club. I imagined all the members would be superstar athletes — the runners who have finished a full marathon (and already left to get brunch and a beer) while I’m still on mile eight.
But Andress assured me this was not the case. She said the BTC is for runners of all levels. When I went out to a recent Saturday morning run I saw she was right.
Andress, who served as BTC president 2012-2014, believes it’s important for the Birmingham Track Club to remain community-focused. The club hosts various races throughout the year including its signature event, the Vulcan Run 10K.
Additionally, the club does things just to make the Birmingham area a better place for runners to train, such as having a water fountain installed near the trail at Jemison Park in Mountain Brook.
In addition to moral support from a group like the BTC, if I’m going to run 1200 miles in 12 months, I need information to help me do this the right way.
So I turned to Alex Morrow — president of Birmingham Track Club, certified running coach and owner of Resolute Running Training Center.
First, I had to let Alex know that in addition to wanting to be fit and wanting to feel like a real runner I had another motive for taking on this challenge.
“I’m in this for the jacket,” I confessed. But Morrow didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he stressed the importance of having the right gear when running.
“Folks always want to try something out before they go get the equipment,” Morrow said. “They say, ‘I may not like running so I’m just going to pull out my Keds from 1975 and go run.’ Then they run three miles and feel miserable because they’re in these horrible shoes.”
So the first step, Morrow said, is to go to a running store to get the right shoes and get clothing that won’t stick to you when you run.
“Don’t try to be a champion right out of the gate,” Morrow says. “You can’t simply say it’s 1200 miles, divide that up it’s going to be 100 miles a month, so I’m going to run 25 miles a week.”
Oops! This is exactly what I had planned to do.
“You can’t do that if you haven’t been running,” Morrow explained. “For someone who is a little more experienced, if you’ve taken some time off you’re still a beginner. Even if you’ve run half-marathons or marathons or even ultra runs, if you haven’t run in several months you’re back to square one. You will regain your fitness quickly you just have to be smart about it. So you build up gradually and in subsequent weeks you’re going to have more than 25 miles so it’s all going to balance out.”
Morrow also stressed the importance of nutrition — simply saying “eat real food” — and the importance of crossing training to help prevent injuries.
Morrow also recommends learning as much as possible about running from reading magazines and chatting with other runners. And, of course, he recommends going for runs with the Birmingham Track Club.
“It’s all about accountability,” he said.
In addition to joining BTC for some runs, I plan to run more with the Birmingham chapter of Black Girls RUN! — the group that first sparked my interest in running — and Black People Run Bike and Swim. TrakShak also hosts a run on Wednesday evenings.
“Don’t be afraid to walk,” Morrow told me. “You can run/walk and achieve your goals. I think a lot of people get the misconception that if you’re not running 100 percent of the time that you’re not a runner. That’s not true.”
So maybe I’m a runner whether I complete the 1200 Mile Club challenge or not. But I’m going after that jacket nonetheless.
Javacia Harris Bowser is an educator and freelance writer in Birmingham. Javacia is the founder of See Jane Write, an organization for local women writers, and she blogs about her life as a “southern fried feminist” at The Writeous Babe Project.