Laurie Gregory

The Accidental Runner, by Laurie GregoryLaurie

I'm older than Title IX, so I didn't have the advantage of girls being encouraged to be involved in sports when I was growing up. I can't catch anything, so any sport involving a ball was out of the question. I was always active, but didn't join a gym until I was in my early 30s. I never thought of myself as an athlete, I just wanted to burn enough calories to eat cookies and not gain weight.

I always thought runners were a little crazy. I didn't think I could run due to some IT band issues that were aggravated by hiking in hilly terrain, and really didn't understand why anyone would want to run when they could walk. Or ride a bike. Or drive. I joked that if anyone saw me running, they should check and see if anyone was chasing me because I might need help.

In October 1997, Race for the Cure had an event in Knoxville for the first time. I was 38 years old, and I was walking outdoors about 20 miles a week and strength training at the YMCA. An acquaintance in the building where I worked in downtown Knoxville was a breast cancer survivor, and asked me to be on her team for the race. I didn't even know how far 5K was, and I explained that I was not a runner, but I didn't feel I could say no to a survivor. She assured me that several women on the team were going to walk, so I signed up for the race.

On race morning, the other team members told me they had decided to run. I told them I would run as far as I could, and walk the rest. When my teammates decided to stop in the first mile, I felt alright, so I kept running. I was about two miles into the race when ahead of me on the Henley Street bridge, I saw the fastest kid from my old neighborhood. And I was gaining on her! I casually said "hey" as I trotted past, and learned something about runners - they encourage each other. She cheered me on!

The results of that race were never published, but I think it took me around 35 minutes. Crossing that finish line was amazing, and I was instantly hooked on running. I continued to run instead of walking, and at first, I didn't know there was any place to run that was easier than Lakeshore Park, which is very hilly. I ran some more races, and joined the Knoxville Track Club. I eventually met other runners and began to run with them, and learned that it's a lot easier to run with friends.

I've been running for over 15 years, and have run around 250 races, including 5Ks, 8Ks, 10Ks, 12Ks, 15Ks, over 30 half marathons, two 15 mile trail races, four 17.5 trail races, and one 50K trail race. I've never run a marathon, but I figure the 50K covers that distance!

I became involved with Fleet Feet in 2009. I was going to be 50 years old that summer, and decided I needed to do something to celebrate being older than most trees. I signed up for Tri 101 because I don't swim well and had no idea how to do transitions. The goal race was the Springbrook Sprint, which was on my birthday. Shahin and Cheryl were able to teach me to swim better, and the group training was a great way to learn about transitions, gear, and all the other things runners don't know about triathlons. The encouragement of the other trainees was helpful, and we all completed the triathlon successfully. After the triathlon, I went back to my running life.

I retired in the spring of 2010, and was talking to Cheryl at the end of that year. She asked if I was interested in coaching the No Boundaries program, and I said I was. I didn't hear from her for a couple of months, and thought she had changed her mind. I was driving back from a race in New Orleans in February 2011 when Cheryl called and asked if I could be at the store at 6:00 because the No Boundaries program was beginning that night. I did manage to stop by as the group was getting ready to start their first run, and I've been coaching No Boundaries and Next Steps ever since. I feel coaching makes me a better runner because I have to demonstrate proper running form, stretching, and core exercises. The extra miles I run make me stronger, because that's my second run of the day. Fleet Feet is the most beginner-friendly running store in the area, and it's a great place to train for any distance.

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