by Lasara Boles
Have you ever driven through Ankeny, Iowa on a Monday evening and caught a glimpse of what appears to be a blinking Christmas tree bobbing down the bike trail, and then had a tough time explaining to the officer why you were swerving without sounding completely insane? If so, you may have already had your first exposure to The Gaggle of Girls running group from Kyle's Bikes in Ankeny.
(If you have a women's running group where you live, please tell us about it in the comments!)
What makes a "gaggle" anyway? Does it take two or three or more to be an official gaggle? I mean, they're definitely made of geese… right?
The great thing about these quandaries is that you don't have to be able to answer them in order to join The Gaggle of Girls. You do, however, have to be a girl.
If you're thinking to yourself, I'm a girl and I suddenly feel inclined to inquire about this exciting running group, look no further. As a member of The Gaggle I can inform you of all you need to know.
I have always enjoyed running but had never been involved in a running group before, nor had I ever participated in anything more than a 5k organized running event. When I decided I wanted to start running longer distances and eventually build-up to a marathon, the pixilated poster for The Gaggle of Girls couldn't have come at a better time. This invitation I stumbled upon was posted on Facebook by Saraleigh Monroe, founder of The Gaggle of Girls, with the urgent message that it would still be 60 degrees at 6:00 p.m. and we, therefore, had no excuse not to run! I was interested and comforted by the notion of a running group just for girls. I was a little intimidated by the idea of joining a running group. I let my mind get carried away, imagining ridiculously superior athletes running 6-minute miles, leaving me putting along in the dark on a desolate trail in Ankeny. Hesitant to join the group that night, I decided to message Saraleigh and find out more about the group. She was able to tell me all I needed to know.
Is "What do I wear?" too stereotypical for a girl to start with?
Regardless, here goes.
The first rule of the running group is “get your blinkie lights on!" Okay, okay, maybe you should put on your running attire first after thoughtful consideration to weather conditions. But then, deck yourself out in flashing lights when running after sunset. The objective of this first rule is to emphasize safety as a priority for all ladies who chose to run with The Gaggle. Running group members are creative in their efforts to remain seen by motorists and other trail users. For example, they throw new AA's into old, flashing red bike lights and secure them to their arms with their out-of-date iPod cases. Your blinkie lights need not be fancy or expensive; they just need to make you visible.
Other than blinkie lights, consider the temperature and wind speeds and dress accordingly for each run. My winter attire has recently included running tights, sports bra, a long sleeve shirt, a sweater or jacket, wool socks, running shoes, borrowed ear muffs, and two pairs of gloves. What to wear is always a judgment call based on the weather and how well you know your body’s reaction to exercise.
Next, lace up your running shoes. If you have torn up, walking shoes with wiggling toes emerging on all sides like I did before starting with The Gaggle, fear not! The ever-helpful running expert, Bill Lorenz, in Kyle's Bikes running section will not stop until he exhausts all efforts to find you your perfect pair of running shoes. I can attest to this because I received this service when I fell in love with neon green Brooks PureConnects after being informed that my old running shoes were a whole size too small. Feet busting out the mesh… Go figure.
How far and how fast does The Gaggle run?
This part is up to you. It's all a matter of your comfort level. There are marked areas along the running/biking path that indicate a variety of distances. You may choose how far you go whether it be 1 mile, a 5K, or more. You may decide to walk, run, or sprint. It's your workout and there are women of all different skill levels to accompany you. Use The Gaggle running group time to practice for whatever your running goal is, whether it’s simply making it off the couch to join The Gaggle or completing a triathlon. A common topic of conversation along the trail with The Gaggle (aside from "Does this blinkie light make my butt look fast?") is running goals. Share your goals with the other girls. Maybe you have weight loss goals; share those too and you may find someone with similar goals with whom you can exchange challenges, triumphs, or tips.
Do I have to be social?
Nah. Feel free to bring your headphones or just enjoy a solitary run. These can often be the best and most therapeutic kinds of runs.
How much time does it take?
This is up to you and is dependent upon your chosen speed and distance. Typically, a Monday night run does not exceed one hour, but Sunday morning runs tend to be longer. If your time is limited, feel free to tailor your speed or distance as you see fit.
Can I bring a friend, or my kid if I can’t seem to find a sitter?
Absolutely! Getting girls together for a run is what The Gaggle is all about! Grandmas, aunts, best friends, work colleagues, in-laws, daughters, mothers are all welcome. Put baby in a stroller and get moving.
Do I have to be an experienced runner?
No! The Gaggle welcomes women of all skill levels, whether you’re a beginner, Saturday-afternoon-mall-walker, occasional jogger, competitive sideways skipper, or triathlete.
So, where do I sign up?
There's no need to sign up. Simply join us any Monday evening at 6 p.m. at Kyle’s Bikes, (1840 SW White Birch Circle Ankeny, IA 50023). A variation of The Gaggle gathers Sunday mornings at Gray’s Lake at 8 a.m., and again you may choose to run 2, 4, 6, or more miles. We run year round.
The Gaggle has recently formed a team to run the Market to Market race. Saraleigh can see The Gaggle competing in more organized runs in the future, for all those who are interested. She also sees the group growing “in any direction it cares to” but always remaining a place that is “comfortable for beginners to seasoned runners.” The Gaggle for me has become a place where I have met some very inspiring women and have learned many things. For instance, did you know there are moisturizing jeans on the market or that there’s a procedure that freezes fat away? Apparently just running in below freezing temperatures won’t cut it.
Though Saraleigh started The Gaggle when she decided she needed to "get back into running," I found it has evolved into a place that welcomes all women to share the joys of running. As I once heard Saraleigh put it—and it resonates with me still—the goal of The Gaggle of Girls is “so no woman ever has to run alone.”
So, lace ‘em up ladies, get hydrated, grab a friend of the female variety and join us. (Men are welcome but are required to wear a skirt.)
Note: The Gaggle took a summer 2013 hiatus. They began running again on Monday, September 9th.
Note 2: This Gaggle is no more, but if you are interested in helping us start a weekly running group again, let us know!