braids: an unexpected inspiration

I regularly meet up with a casual running group called FridayNightsWeRun, and it’s organized by a friend of mine who’s a big track fan. So when I saw that pro runner Colleen Quigley was hosting an event in NYC on a Friday, I immediately sent a message to that friend. Unsurprisingly, she quickly made Quigley’s event part of the FNWR plan.

It was called #FastBraidFriday — an event based on something she’d cultivated on Instagram over the last year, where runners from all over would share photos of the braided hairstyles they wore while training or competing. Quigley posted about needing braiders for the event so I volunteered. After all, I can braid, and I was already going. I was excited to be a part of it, but to be honest, I didn’t understand how a bunch of people braiding and getting their hair braided alongside an Olympian was supposed to empower athletes. Still, I figured it would be fun.

It was fun.
And I get it now.

Girls and young women came from all across the metro area to see Quigley and talk about running while getting their own versions of her signature braided look. I enjoyed seeing people smile when they looked in the mirror, posed for pictures and compared their styles. But the best part came after everyone had their hair done, when Quigley stood in front of the group to talk about what FastBraidFriday means to her.

She said it’s about having confidence in chasing big, scary goals. And then she asked the group (mostly young women) to share theirs.

Colleen Quigley speaking about #FastBraidFriday. Not pictured: The dozens of excited runners listening to her.

The girls were nervous at first, but after some encouragement they started to share their ambitions. They said they wanted to conquer new running distances. Chase personal bests. Qualify for the Boston Marathon.

It takes a lot of courage to share your aspirations. So many times, I’ve seen and heard women share ambitious goals, only to be told they’re not being realistic, that they’re not ready, that they should try something else first. Something easier.

At best, they walk away from such nonsense with more drive (and some frustration, no doubt). Or maybe next time, they keep their dreams to themselves. But sometimes they change course and decide their dream is too far out of reach, because someone who has no business doing so has not only made them afraid to fail but also made them feel as though they certainly will.

I know this doesn’t happen only to women. But it happens to women a lot. And that’s why it was so powerful to see all those young women say their big, scary goals out loud, in front of a group, and have that group respond with encouragement, cheers and applause. I saw the empowerment happen in real time.

The day after the event, Quigley shared on Instagram (and with her tens of thousands of followers):

“My big scary goal: I want to win the 5th Ave Mile tomorrow!”

It was ambitious, even for someone as accomplished as Quigley. She was going up against a stacked field, including six-time winner and reigning champ Jenny Simpson.

The race was impressive and thrilling — very close — but Quigley didn’t win. She didn’t achieve her big, scary goal. Not this time.

It would have been amazing to see Quigley win, but her second-place finish was inspiring, too. It’s good for people to see their role models struggle. To see that success stories aren’t the only ones worth sharing. To understand that falling short of a single goal isn’t something to hide from. It’s just a part of process, a moment to learn from as you continue the chase.

And to answer the obvious question: My big, scary goal is to run a sub-4-hour race at the Wineglass Marathon in a few weeks.

Doing the Instagram thing with my runner friends and our Fast Braids.

{featured image credit: David Bracetty}

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