At Your Own Pace

Amber Ault goes out for a jog with the Madison Front Runners/Front Walkers and finds support for athletes at any level.

Amber Ault goes out for a jog with the Madison Front Runners/Front Walkers and finds support for athletes at any level.

Looking for a little inspiration for your summer fitness goals? Spend five or ten minutes with Brian J., an enthusiastic member of the Madison chapter of Front Runners/Front Walkers, and you’re likely to be headed to your closet for your running shoes.

“I had friends who were runners,” Brian recounts, “and they would go on and on about their races. I would think, ‘Enough, already’….but secretly I was jealous. I was never athletic, and never a runner, but I wished I could be.”

Brian showed up for one of the Saturday morning runs organized by Front Runners/Front Walkers. The group does a 10k loop through Madison’s scenic University of Wisconsin Arboretum, then reconvenes for coffee somewhere near Monroe Street. Brian’s first run was a bust.

“I couldn’t keep up,” he recalls. He contemplated if this meant he really wasn’t meant to run, but decided to take on the challenge.

What he found was encouragement, support and camaraderie. Even though the six mile Arb loop still seemed daunting, he hung with it, with a little help from his Front Runner friends. Once six miles came to seem normal, Brian set his sights on a twenty-miler, then the 26.2 marathon distance. Now, he says, “I’m asking myself, ‘Which marathon do I want to do next?”

From Brian’s perspective, an LGBT athletic organization like Front Runners/Front Walkers offers our community an opportunity to socialize that’s away from a bar and feels like a safer space to explore developing one’s inner athlete than some mainstream sports organizations. When Brian is feeling some discomfort during a run, he feels safe to express that to Front Runner pals with what he describes as his own special dramatic flair—something that he might be less comfortable doing in straight company.

Madison’s chapter of Front Runners/Front Walkers is about 10 years old and is affiliated with a national network of LGBT running groups. When members travel, they can connect with chapters in other cities to run, meet local community members and get oriented toward the local geographic and cultural landscapes.

Madison’s chapter fluctuates in size, but always includes walkers as well as runners. And the walkers always include dogs.

While Front Runners events attract fewer women than men, women interested in an LGBT-friendly running experience have options, too. Brian J. joins Laura Strimpel to host a weekly Wednesday night run that departs from the Berkeley Running Company on University Avenue and includes more women runners, and, apparently, lots of community building.

For Laura, “The fun part of any running group is when people share their stories, which often include their experiences with relationships, at home and at work. LBGT people often have shared experiences as a result of their identities, so it’s nice to run with LGBT-identified people and allies who can relate to both the funny and more serious moments in life.”

Both the Saturday morning run and the Wednesday night run are free and offer supportive environments for newbies.

“Running is one of those places to discover you can achieve more than you thought possible,” says Brian J., the marathoner who has long since left that non-athlete incarnation of himself in the dust. Sounds intriguing, yes?

Front Runners/Front Walkers depart at 9 a.m. sharp on Saturdays from Wingra Park, at the end of Pickford Street off Monroe Street, one block from Bluephie’s. Runners and walkers go a range of distances and paces in the Arboretum before returning to the park and heading out for coffee. Brian J. and Laura Strimpel facilitate a three-to-five mile run departing each Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. from the Berkeley Running Company on University Avenue. The usual pace for that run is 10:00 to 10:30/mile.