Although it does not have the pomp of Charter Day or Convocation, running along Duke of Gloucester Street has become its own sort of tradition for many people in the Williamsburg area.
For almost two years now, one group from William & Mary has used that tradition to get a good workout, prepare for a plethora of races and build the community on campus – one mile at a time.
The group, informally called “The Saturday Morning Running Group,” was the brainchild of Anne Arseneau, associate director of student activities.
“I got tired of paying for races that I didn’t show up to,” Arseneau said, adding that she didn’t consistently train for them on her own.
And so, Arseneau contacted some of her friends on campus, asking for them to join her on a weekly run.
“Since running alone can be pretty boring, she put out a call to people she knew who were runners and said, hey, anybody want to come sometimes, maybe once a week. And it turned into a regular thing,” said Jodi Fisler, assistant to the vice president of student affairs.
As word got out, the group grew beyond Arseneau’s circle of friends. Now, it has more than 15 members from across campus – including faculty, professional faculty, staff members and students -- who communicate via a listserv.
Members from the group meet every Saturday morning for a four-mile run through Colonial Williamsburg and the College campus. Those who are training for longer events can continue on afterward, but everyone runs within view of each other during those first four miles.
The group’s members have varying levels of ability and speed, from those who have never run a race to others who have run competitively, like Shylan Scott, a recent Ph.D. graduate and assistant director for fraternity and sorority housing, who once ran track for the University of Virginia.
“Somehow, it all seems to work out okay,” said Fisler. “There’s some nice camaraderie even if there are different speeds.”
Arseneau said that anyone is welcome to join the group. They just need to send her an e-mail. But there is one catch.
“They can’t be faster than Jodi,” she said. “We are not the group for someone who runs under a 10-minute mile.”
The size of the group varies every Saturday morning, depending on who is available and what they are training for. But that flexible nature of the group is something its members enjoy as they try to work the runs into their busy lives.
“It’s been about a year and a half that we’ve been doing this, and we’ve had some births. We’ve had deaths. We’ve had some engagements. We’ve had some weddings,” said Deb Boykin, assistant vice president for student affairs and director of residence life. “That’s been really nice to look back and see the life cycle that we’ve gone through.”
Carin Barber, an adjunct professor in the School of Education, has been a big part of that life cycle. She joined the group soon after its creation and only took time off from it after giving birth to her second child, Charlie, in March.
“Now, I'm happy to be back,” she said in an e-mail.
Barber, who has participated in similar running groups in other locations, said it’s a great way to get to know a new place. She has enjoyed running for years and relishes the chance to get fresh air, exercise and fellowship.
“The group gets you to run more than you would if you were out by yourself running,” said Barber. “As the saying goes, time flies when you are having fun. The miles do pass pretty quickly when you have others to chit chat with!”
Boykin said that she enjoys participating in the runs because of the feeling she gets when she is done.
“It’s the warm glow of the physical activity, but also the camaraderie, the fellowship, the women talk that we have that is just sort of free-flowing,” she said. “You just go home with a warm feeling.”
Fisler, too, enjoys the social aspect of the runs, even more so than the pure physical activity.
“It’s just positive on so many levels,” she said. “I feel good about what I’ve done physically. I really like the glow that we have from the social interaction. And you look at a day like today, it’s so great to be out on a day like today running through Colonial Williamsburg. It just makes me feel very lucky to be here in Williamsburg and be able to run – I mean, just physically be able to run – it just fulfills me on so many levels.”
The runs have also had an extra benefit for those who work on the William & Mary campus: expanding and increasing its members’ community bonds.
“Work-wise, I think it’s been a fascinating process to be able to spend time with people I wouldn’t have an hour with every day of just conversation,” said Arseneau. “We’ve learned a lot, we’ve shared a lot, we’ve talked a lot about just different things, so that’s been really, really helpful in ways I never, ever anticipated when I was just looking for someone to show up with.”
As for the actual running that the group does, the participants have succeeded in reaching new goals as a result of their Saturday morning habit.
“I’ve run for 39 years now, but I had never done a half marathon, and Anne was the inspiration for that,” said Boykin. “So this past February and May, I ran two half marathons, including the one here in town. And my 5K time has dropped. … I’m 60 now, and this group has inspired me to keep going. It’s been great.”
The group has also fulfilled its founder’s original purpose.
“I think I’ve shown up for almost all of the races I’ve registered for,” Arseneau said with a laugh. “I’ve run three half-marathons since this group got started. I spent about 18 months where I paid for races that I didn’t show up to, so this has kept me on track in the way that I needed it to, so that’s been a success for me.
“I had gotten bored, and it’s nice to kind of be reengaged."