There is something unique about the camaraderie of runners. It is evident in youth running events such as cross country or track meets as spectators and athletes alike cheer on and offer encouragement for all the runners, no matter what team they compete for. This support doesn’t stop when a runner graduates from high school or college. As long as they participate in running events, there is a supportive fanbase ready to cheer them on.
Fergus Falls Area Runners (FFAR) took that support one step further, creating a running group that not only served as a training tool, but also to offer the encouragement that is often missing when only served as a training tool, but also to offer the encouragement that is often missing when training for a running event solo.
“Several years ago I was training for Boston and Wes (Borowski) was training for a marathon in Wisconsin. We had to do an 18-mile run and the wind chill was about 20 below. It really helps to have someone else there to motivate you on those cold days,” expressed Steve Swanson, one of the group’s early members.
Swanson began running with the group following his first half marathon. Faced with the options of exercise or cholesterol medication, he laced up his tennis shoes and started a “couch to 5K” program, which transformed him from nonrunner to runner in eight weeks.
“(I started) being able to run about two laps at the YMCA. In 8-10 weeks I could run a couple miles. Not fast, but run without stopping,” Swanson said.
FFAR has led a “couch to 5K” program in the past, encouraging new runners by incorporating the group element.
FFAR credits its creation to local doctors Wesley Borowski and Wade Swenson, friends who enjoyed running together and welcomed anyone interested to join them. Since 2007, the group has grown. Members, an unofficial term for the group of runners, sometimes participate in group runs or running events and sometimes opt to train solo. Initially, the group began training for marathons, both half and full. Their training reach has expanded to include ultra marathons (35 to 100 miles), trail running, and ironman triathlons (2.45 mile swim, 112 mile bicycle ride, 26.22 mile run). Due to increased numbers and varied training goals, FFAR runs now occur in smaller groups, though the group congregates on Saturday mornings for a longer run followed by breakfast.
Over the years, the group has traveled to many different locations for races, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Sacramento, Boston, Las Vegas, Duluth, Minneapolis and Fargo. They also took a group of 12 to participate in a 200-mile relay race, Ragnar Great River, which started in Wisconsin and ended in Minneapolis. FFAR’s team placed first in their age/sex category, with both women and men competing on their team.
“We celebrate National Running Day annually with a run finished with ice cream,” longtime FFAR member Lynn Wolters explained of her favorite FFAR occurrences. “We celebrate holidays such as Halloween, Christmas and July Fourth with a fun run decked out in holiday appropriate clothing.”
For their Christmas Day run, the group dons Santa Claus costumes and hits the streets, earning looks of both confusion and delight from bystanders. They have also been spotted dressed in kilts, as superheroes, or as “the king” himself (Elvis).
Due to the pandemic, many of the races FFAR members would have participated in were cancelled. Presently, the group has a half/full marathon slated for May in Brookings, South Dakota, and some of the group are training both half and full ironman triathlons and ultra marathons. Group runs were put on hold for a time, but are currently open to anyone who would like to participate as they occur outdoors and face coverings are worn.
The group is always welcoming runners to join them. The best way to join is to show up at the YMCA around 7:45-8 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Most Saturday’s, the group congregates outside the building before embarking on their “long run.” If you know any FFAR members, don’t hesitate to reach out to them about joining the group.
The relationships fostered through FFAR go beyond the realms of training. Many members have been running with the group for over 10 years and have shared the ups and downs of life with each other. While their like-minded interest in running brought them together, the relationships they built transformed the group early. This is best expressed by Wolters, who shared “We are friends over and above being runners.”