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Community Voices: Introducing the St. Pete Run Fest’s Rookie Runners

Ryan Jordan

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The 2021 St. Pete Run Fest will be held Nov. 12-14. Photo provided.

Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

There are not many places where the weather allows you to get out and enjoy the outdoors nearly 365 days a year, even fewer as beautiful as the City of St. Petersburg. Not a day goes by where you don’t see people of all ages walking, running, biking, each having their own motivation to get out the door for their daily dose of fitness. With so many opportunities available to get outside it’s easy to see why.

Amongst those opportunities is St. Pete Run Fest (Nov. 12-14), a community-inspired multi-event festival that not only includes running events, it incorporates many of the amenities that make St. Pete a great place to live, work, and play. The team at Run Fest aims to keep their focus on creating an event focused on community building while being eco-friendly and conscious of the impact large events can have on our environment.

One of the ways Run Fest works to build upon the health and wellness of our community while also focusing on giving back is the Rookie Runner program sponsored in part by St. Pete Running Company. New runners from the St. Pete community receive complimentary coaching and gear from St. Pete Running Company to guide them to running on race weekend. With so many benefits to being active, this program aids in encouraging others to get out, get active, and stay healthy.

This year, Run Fest has six inspiring members from around the St. Pete community participating in the program: 

 

What’s your favorite part of the health and wellness community in St. Petersburg?

Ben S.:  just love seeing all ages of people taking advantage of our beautiful waterfront parks and trails. When I am running or walking in St Petersburg it inspires me to see others on their own journey.

Jenny M.: It’s awesome to be able to just get outside all the time. It seems like so many people are out there, doing yoga, playing pickleball, paddling, running, working out, there’s so much to do.

Jenny B.: Wow! St Pete really is healthy! I love the initiatives that are being worked on within Healthy St Pete & Get Fit St Pete and the experience of being with like-minded and committed athletes at the Body Electric Yoga & Athletic Companies is remarkable. I believe in the future, we will shift from surviving to thriving.

Shawn Eckert: I’m super new to this community so far it feels great to be accepted and not judged by others. I’ve struggled with “not being good” at things so it’s wild to me to be able to inspire others.

 

What can we do as a community to improve the health and wellbeing of others around us?

Ben S.: I think a concerted effort by the City of St Petersburg to consider Health in all Policies and have staff dedicated to Healthy St Pete has made a huge difference in the health and wellbeing of our community. In addition, having large events like the St Pete Run Fest helps shine a spotlight on healthy habits.

Jenny M.: Making PE and recess a priority in schools. Outreach. There are so many good, accessible programs and classes, it’s just a matter of getting people over those barriers to entry, a lot of which are mental … .people are afraid to try new things that might be uncomfortable, or they might feel stupid trying because you’re not good at first at anything. The more people in your social group you see doing things, the more likely you are to try, too. So, do stuff! Be an example to your family and friends.

Jenny B.: Talk about our stories. Connect. Deepen the conversation and cut through the old boundaries that define who gets to know our most intimate “why’s.” Open up. It’s time for farmers’ markets with organic produce in parking lots, coop/style food shopping, and sharing resources. What we should do to improve the health and well-being of our communities is to actually lead in systemic change from our roads to our rivers to our education & our soil composition. I keep a public profile on social media and “air my truth” because I am an example. I changed my entire life because I realized I had opinions that had to actions attached. Values exist within vacuums unless you bring them to life with your behavior. You can read the details of these changes on my Instagram, as I did document the past four years. 

Shawn Eckert: Keep accepting people and sharing stories, you never know who will come across something they relate to. A lot of people say I’m too old to run. I’m too heavy to run. What if you die out there! I would just walk! If I can do it – you can do it, and if I listened to those people I would still be sitting on my couch.

 

What got you into running?

Ben S.: My mom was sick from cancer in 2003 and I picked up running to support raising money for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute with the Boston Half Marathon. I continued running after that with more half marathons and full marathons. My mom was able to see my first full marathon before she passed away in 2004.

Jenny M.: I wanted to be able to keep up with my kid. My cardio sucked, and I found myself either opting out of fun adventures because I was afraid I’d be uncomfortable, or I’d do the thing and get gassed and have a bad time. So, I wanted to have and be more fun, basically.

Jenny B.: Ahmaud Arbery, the first time I ever ran more than a mile was in 2020. I knew it hurt like hell but that pain was a privilege only afforded to the living, and I ran for him and continue to run for everyone who cannot #runformaud,

Shawn Eckert: My son joined a cross country group in 5th grade and we went to local races together. For the next few years, I ran here and there and once Covid hit I really picked up “training” to stay in shape when the gyms closed .

 

How do you feel being active supports mental health and wellbeing?

Ben S.: It means everything to my mental health and wellbeing – especially being able to be active in such a beautiful city.

Jenny M.: It’s the best way to feel better in a hurry. I wish I’d started long ago, although I saved a lot of wear and tear on my joints starting late, maybe!

Jenny B.: Nutrition is my medicine & athletic activity is my therapy. It is essential. I have to process the experience of living. I do that consciously and unconsciously. Sometimes, I “wake” in the middle of a yoga class, while in an active posture, and realize my cognitive self was allowing my spirit to move me. Deep meditation can now happen in a physically strenuous time, this is my greatest superpower.  I ran with an ex-marine in September and he taught me something special; that when it really hurts on a run, it is the perfect time to find what hurts inside of you. We often process pain in comfortable environments, to create emotional safety. But the truth is, the temporary physical pain that you feel at various points of a run, as fatigue kicks in, is a perfect time to ask yourself, what am I carrying that I can let go of? What has happened that I can feed to the “hurt monster” in my quad or the “hurt monster” in my calves? I reflect on the losses that I have experienced, the pervasive fears that haunt all of us, I visualize that day’s pain and I let it go into the muscle and I run it out. I  push it into the pavement. When that wave of hurt passes, as they always do, I inhale deeply and bring my mind back to the light of love, deep gratitude, and the sheer joy that I am alive and able to be free.

Shawn E.: Being active helps big time. I feel relaxed and clear when I’m active, I don’t really know how to explain it, you’ll have to try it and feel it!

Cole: Helps with stress, feeling of accomplishment is uplifting, the body feels great after running.  I enjoy taking time to be grateful that my body allows me to run – 7-year cancer survivor!

St. Pete Run Fest features a multitude of events for every level of fitness for the whole family.

For more information on Run Fest, visit its website here.

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