Families that run together talk about its benefits — on and off the trail
Tracey Smith’s daughters might be faster than she is, but she’ll catch them over longer runs, at least for now. But for the Smith girls, running isn’t about winning races; it’s about spending time together, being strong, being healthy and making memories.
Tracey, an English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) teacher at Easton Elementary School, started running in 2008 with a program called Easton Rocks, which teamed runners together to train for races and to raise money for afterschool programs at Easton Elementary School. Smith was pushing her younger daughter Mattie (now 12) everywhere in a jogging stroller when a friend and fellow teacher recommended she start running.
“Lea Ann Robinson said, ‘You are already walking all the miles, you should start running,’” Tracey said. “So Mattie in her stroller was really my first training partner.”
Tracey’s older daughter Michaela (now 15) and Mattie are both lacrosse players and run to keep in shape for the sport. Each girl had run her first 5K (3.1 mile) race by the time she was 8. They have done a number of 5Ks, a couple triathlons, and Michaela has run an 8K race. All three have been a part of Easton Elementary’s color run 5K race over the past two years.
Her personal reasons for running lead into the reasons Tracey loves to see and be a part of her daughters’ running as well.
“I run to set goals for myself, to increase distance and challenge myself, to accomplish things I didn’t think I could – and hopefully the girls see that,” she said. “If they decide they are going to do a race with me, they’ll both really train for it. And I love spending that time together, being outdoors, getting them outside.”
Favorite running memories include a destination race in Virginia Beach. Michaela and Tracey ran the Shamrock 8K together, and the following day Tracey ran the Shamrock half-marathon. Her brother and sister-in-law are both runners and were part of it, a family trip to the beach and running all mixed in together.
Tracey is a coach for Talbot Unleashed, the training team that Easton Rocks turned into, which helps people train for full or half- marathons and raise money for Talbot Humane Society.
Michaela and Mattie have volunteered at water stops for the team and done some informal training runs. Unleashed is starting its 12th season, training for the Richmond Half-Marathon in November. Also this fall, the three Smith girls hope to run a 10K race at Mt. Vernon, which will be the girls’ longest race so far.
Easton Rocks is also what got Amy and Scott Walstrum running. Amy, a 17-year teacher for Talbot County Public Schools, now an early childhood literacy coach for the county, trained for and ran the Marine Corps Marathon. Scott, a project manager for a base operating support contractor at the Naval Academy, ran a half-marathon in Virginia Beach.
The Walstrums’ daughters, Faith, 12, and Lili, 8, are competitive gymnasts, and running adds crossing training and cardio to their practice. But running is also something they share as a family.
In 2015, the Walstrums went to Virginia Beach, with all of them running races. Amy’s mom went with them. Scott and Amy ran 5-mile races that Friday evening, Amy did the half-marathon on Sunday, and Scott ran the marathon. In between, Faith, then 9, ran the “final mile,” a one-mile run to add to 25 miles she had run over the course of months of training, and Lili, then 4, ran a 26.2 yard run.
“Faith’s final mile was run on the marathon course, with a big finish just like everyone who finished the marathon,” Amy said. “It was so cool to go to a running festival where we could all run races on the same weekend.”
“Being together as a family, to be able to go out and support each other, was a really great experience—our family did five races in one weekend,” Scott said. “And there was still time to be together as a family, go to restaurants and have fun together.”
Finding time to run with the girls putting in a lot of time for gymnastics and both Scott and Amy working in different towns, can be challenging. So the Walstrums often run while the girls are training at the gym. When they can run together, it’s a great time for the two to catch up.
“Running is a huge stress reliever where I can let my mind go,” Scott said. “When I run with Amy while the girls are at the gym, it’s like, ‘oh, hi, wife, nice to see you!”
“And the thing about it, when we run, it’s not just talking about what is going on with work, what we are doing for dinner, or where we have to be next, we go deeper into thoughts and feelings, which is really cool,” Amy said.
It was also running while the girls trained where Amy found a group and organization that would change their lives and perspectives. In Fruitland, talking to another gymnastics mother, Jill Fears, Amy talked about wanting to work with athletes with disabilities. She asked Fears if she knew who to get in touch with. Fears said she did know; she was the person who coordinated Athletes Serving Athletes (ASA) for the region.
For ASA, runners help raise money for disabled runners and their families to be able to compete in races. And then as a “wingman,” you work together in the race to cross the finish line. Amy and Scott had been serving as wingmen and captains in ASA for three years, when Amy asked about the girls getting involved in it and learned about the “junior wingman” program, where younger athletes can fundraise and support the athletes on race day.
“It’s been incredible to see what this organization does for families, how it brings families together,” Amy said. “I would never know about any of this without running, and for our kids to be a part of this — to experience what it’s like to serve a population of people who are underserved; to have the opportunity to view others’ difference as unique and beautiful. It’s pretty powerful.”
“We got into running for personal goals and reasons, and ASA changes your perspective, you also want to be there for athletes,” Scott said. “When we got involved with ASA, our training took a different direction, ‘Together we finish” is our motto.
This past spring was the first race all four Walstrums did together for ASA. For the Third Wave 5K, they ran together with an athlete named Kayleen.
“We ran together as a team — the first time our family was a team together for a race — we had the best time, laughing, supporting Kayleen, and she was laughing the entire time,” Amy said.
They finished the race together.