Is 2017 the year you’re going to become a runner? It could be!

Perhaps you’ve made this “I’m going to run!” claim before (I sure have), but rather than procrastinating it away for another 365 days, you can launch your running career right now with the Winter Warriors running groups offered by Fleet Feet Maine Running.

I know what you’re thinking – that running is an outdoor activity best enjoyed in spring, when it’s actually light out after work and there’s little risk that your face will go numb while finishing up a three-mile jog. Heck, maybe you’re even thinking that running is an outdoor activity best enjoyed by other people who are not you, whatever the season.

But if there’s a part of you that wants to run, and you don’t want to do it alone, check out the Winter Warriors run group.

The Fleet Feet Maine Running Shop in Portland is host to the Winter Warriors run group. There’s a group at the Brunswick location, too. Shannon Bryan photos

Winter Warriors run groups that depart from both of the Fleet Feet locations in Maine: Marginal Way in Portland and Maine Street in Brunswick. The Portland group meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays at 9 a.m. In Brunswick, the group meets Mondays and Wednesdays at 6 p.m. and Saturday mornings at 8 a.m.

Winter Warriors is FREE to participate in. In fact, each time to show up to a run – whether it’s once a week or three times a week – you’ll accrue points that might even score you some free stuff at the end of the season. You can also accrue points by volunteering or running certain local races (Jimmy The Greeks Frozen 4 Miler, Mid Winter Classic, Irish Road Rover 5K and Kerrymen’s Pub 5K). That’s motivation-via-freebie. And it works.

Winter Warriors coaches Dave and Erin talk about the group, the course, and proper gear during the first night of the 2017 run group. Shannon Bryan photo

In Portland, the group meets in a room at the back of the shop, where coaches Dave and Erin go over the evening’s course (which is chosen based on the weather and road/trail conditions), gear, and other info.

When it was time to ready for the inaugural run, folks self-divided into groups based on pace (6-minute mile runners over there, 10-minute mile runners there, and I’ll hang over here with the 13-minute mile group) and then everyone poured out of the shop and onto the street (and into the cold winter rain).

The Winter Warriors heads up the hill towards Portland’s East End. Shannon Bryan photo

Attendance was impressive for the first night of the run group, despite the fact that it was raining and cold. Around 100 runners are expected to participate this year in Portland alone – and the group can plan on running in all kinds of weather. Wind. Rain. Snow. Cold.

Coach Erin noted that the only time a group run is cancelled is when the shop is closed. And the shop doesn’t close much.

Running, rain be damned. Shannon Bryan photo

The first night’s route left the Marginal Way shop and headed up onto Munjoy Hill, following the Eastern Promenade to St. Lawrence Street, then North Street and back down toward the store via the Bayside Trail (about 3 miles total, or 5 miles if you ran the Munjoy Hill loop twice, which some people did).

It was every runner for herself on this night, although lots of folks paired up. As slower runners, my cohort Kim and I were still always able to see people in front of us.

This photo doesn’t do the view justice, but looking out onto downtown from the hill was purty! Shannon Bryan photo

And while conditions were soggy and slippery (although not cold at all, once we got moving and our bodies warmed up), it felt good to be running. Or jogging. Or walking. (This group is open to all levels.) And the view of downtown from up on the hill is so neat at night.

The return run to Fleet Feet Maine Running via the Bayside Trail. Shannon Bryan photo

While many of the Winter Warriors are experienced runners who’ve participated in this group for years, there were newcomers, too. Plenty of haven’t-run-in-years folks of all speeds and many walkers, too. So whatever your pace (or even if you’re not sure of your pace), you’re welcome here.

Of course gear really matters when you’re running in the winter – especially at night. Here’s the gear coaches request that you have when running with the group (or on your own, for that matter).
1. Reflective vest
2. Headlamp
3. Shoes with traction or a traction device to put on your shoes (i.e. Yaktrax)
4. Base layer (a wicking fabric is recommended)
5. Winter head and hand gear

Some essential winter running gear. Top row: reflective vest, headlamp, gloves, foot traction. Bottom: water-resistant outer layer, running shoes, headband/hat, neck gaiter. Shannon Bryan photos

Run groups have already begun and continue through April 1. So get going, maybe win free stuff, and finally follow through on that promise to “run more” this year.

Portland group
Tuesday and Thursday 6 p.m. and Saturdays at 9 a.m.
Fleet Feet Maine Running, 309 Marginal Way, Portland

Brunswick group
Monday and Wednesday evenings, 6 p.m. and Saturday mornings, 8 a.m.
Fleet Feet Maine Running, 89 Maine St., Brunswick