“Peer pressure” has always had a negative connotation. It’s why kids are “up to no good,” right? For me, though, peer pressure was always a good thing. Instead of getting me into to trouble, peer pressure got me into running.
Peer pressure was the reason I joined the cross country team in high school and it remains the reason, to this day, I show up before dawn ready to run.
I’ve never been athletically inclined on my own, so the concept of running for fun was ridiculous to me for a long time. Growing up, I dreaded gym fitness tests knowing I’d have to run the mile. I played soccer and basketball briefly, but only because my friends were playing too. I wasn’t very good and rarely, if ever, got to play.
When I started high school, I entertained the thought of trying out for field hockey. I was moving from a private school to public school and I thought it might be a good way to make friends, but I ultimately decided that sports weren’t for me.
I got lucky in high school and was adopted by a group of friends that gave me a place to sit at lunch and a ride home after school. As we grew closer, I learned that many of my friends were on the cross country team. They actively chose to log miles every day, while I dreaded running a lap around the track in gym class. I couldn’t imagine doing it voluntarily.
As my first year of high school came to a close, a friend suggested I sign up for cross country when the fall came around. I scoffed at the idea. “I’m not a runner,” I told her. She brushed that off.
“Just sign up,” she said. “If you change your mind, you can quit.”
So I signed up. But I had almost forgotten about it—up until a letter, along with a training plan—came in the mail.
I called my friend: “I don’t think I’m going to do this,” I said. “I’m not a runner.” Again, she told me to just show up and quit later if I didn’t like it.
Justly chastened, I acquiesced. I bought a pair of running shoes that were too big and completely wrong for my feet and showed up. The first run was six miles. I grumbled the entire way through, walking more than I ran.
But when I finished, I was met by a chorus of cheers. Great job, they all screamed—assuring me that it gets easier. The next day, they welcomed me back and cheered again. I suddenly had this incredible support system that was rooting for me and celebrated every time I crossed the finish line, even when I came in dead last.
The camaraderie I felt on that team kept me coming back. Even with injuries (likely from my lousy shoes), I signed up for more, electing to run both indoor and outdoor track. What’s more, my circle of friends grew as I got to know members of the boys’ team, too. They lifted me up and pushed me to work harder. My body got stronger and my pace got faster. Running became part of who I was and I was better for it.
But then high school ended. Despite my love of running, I no longer had the support of my team. Suddenly, my motivation waned. I left the suburbs of Connecticut for the streets of New York as I entered college and just couldn’t get myself out there on a regular basis.
I’d run through the streets of Brooklyn and across bridges and back, but I’d push too hard, do too much too soon, and then injure myself. After college, I started working and I just didn’t have time for running—or at least that’s what I told myself.
When I met the man I would marry, I felt that old inkling of motivation (pre-wedding workout!) but once the wedding was over, the urge to stay fit faded again.
Then, after having kids, I felt overwhelmed and out of shape. My body hadn’t bounced back from pregnancy and my mental health was suffering. I needed something for me, so I turned to what I knew had worked. I bought a new pair of running shoes and started pounding the pavement again.
It helped! I felt physically and mentally better after a run, but the motivation still wasn’t there. There was always something else to do. I had work or take care of the kids. I was too exhausted to wake up early and too exhausted by the afternoon to go out late.
I wanted it, though. I really wanted it to work.
Browsing Facebook, I found area fitness groups. One in particular, Moms Run This Town, was in my town and the runs were near my house. I could lace up my shoes and simply step outside!
“Anyone up for an early morning run?” posted one member. I wondered what she meant by “early.”
“Does 5:45am work?” another said. I gasped at the time. An hour before sunrise.
“Anyone else want to join? All paces welcome!”
Before I had a chance to second guess myself, I replied, “I’m in.”
I hemmed and hawed. I made up excuses for why it was a bad idea. But I said that I was going, so I needed to go. Once again, peer pressure took over and I dragged myself out of bed and pushed through a three-mile run.
The next time an early morning run came up, I said yes again. And again. Even as the weather turned colder, I kept saying yes. Saying yes made me accountable. Saying yes meant someone was counting on me. And that’s enough.
I’m training for my first half marathon now. I wish I could say the race alone motivates me to get out and run, but honestly, it’s the fact that a friend is running the race, too.
We all have to find something that works for us and motivates us. Having accountability through a team or running group, and having someone relying on me to show up, ready to run, is what keeps me motivated.
It turns out that peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing if you just find the right peers.