Courtesy of Laura Parks

Bursting the Bubble: Lehigh Valley running community

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For some, it’s the cardio, and for others, it’s to clear their head.

But, for Laura Parks, ’18, it’s the love-hate relationship with running that keeps her going.

“There’s those days I’ll run three miles, and it feels like 300 miles,” Parks said. “And then I’ll go out and run 10 miles, and I feel like I’m floating on a cloud. And just the balance between the two of them. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Parks, a member of the Lehigh crew team, ran her first marathon at the Lehigh Valley VIA marathon this year.

She is following in the footsteps of her father, who has been participating in the IronMan triathlon since she was 14 years old. Parks says going to all his competitions is what inspired her to start running.

Being from Bethlehem, she has seen the Lehigh Valley running community continue to grow and with the Runner’s World headquarters nearby, it helped put this community on the map.

Another running attraction helping to grow the Bethlehem community is Aardvark Sports Shop on Main Street.

Aardvark employee Trevor Van Ackeren said the store is not only about selling products, but connecting with the community and people involved in the sport as well. The store host group runs, has in-store yoga and Pilates classes and meets with training groups.

During Runner’s World weekend, Aardvark Sports Shop and Runner’s World team up to work with training groups, sometimes with upwards of 60 people, who meet at the store multiple times a week to go out and prepare together as a community.

Mike Horgan, ’16, has been a part of this running community since his freshman year and said he has met a lot of other runners in the area.

Horgan got into running his sophomore year of high school. Many of his friends and his brother ran, so he decided to start as well. He continued to run through college and decided that because he felt he did better with long distance, he became a half-marathon runner. Last year, Horgan came in third in the Runner’s World half-marathon.

“It’s really just been a lifestyle,” Horgan said. “I got addicted to it because you saw the results. It kind of changed my work ethic a lot and it made me work harder in school and be more passionate about things.”

Horgan was involved in the Lehigh running club his freshman and sophomore year at Lehigh where he said people range from experienced to beginners.

He said sometimes he thinks the idea of having to be an expert runner deters people from running, but Horgan said nobody has to be one to have fun.

And it helps to have an accepting community as well.

“The whole running community here in the Lehigh Valley is very open to people who are just getting into running,” Parks said. “You don’t have to be fast, and you don’t have to run cross country in high school or in college for them to be accepting of you and for you to make friends.”

Parks said she meets the most people during the training process for events. Every Saturday morning during the summer she would run at the parkway and would recognize the people she saw running at different races. She said that’s how she builds relationships.

“People motivate each other in the race, and even though it’s a competition, it’s friendly competition,” Horgan said. “Runners want the win to mean something, so if they can push the other person harder, to push themselves harder, that would be more rewarding.”

There are many rewarding reasons to run, but one reason that has become widely known is running for charity.

“You see a lot of charity races, and I think that whole component of training for races where you’re putting yourself through a lot of physical pain is the point,” Horgan said. “It’s a huge physical undertaking that you’re putting yourself under and, in a way, solidarity towards the cause.”

Horgan’s advice to first-time runners is to not look at the idea of running as a huge feat. He said look at it as a build up and a natural progression, and eventually, it’ll get easier.

Parks agreed and feels the more work someone puts in, the more good running days the person will have.

“Your relationship with running is what you make of it,” Parks said.

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