Leland Lady Runners connects more than 300 local women with exercise, camaraderie and caring.

 Three years ago, there were no official running groups in Leland. Tired of driving over the bridge to join the Wilmington Road Runners, Eva Pittman, a nurse and lean strategies coach at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, decided to start her own.

Leland Lady Runners (LLRs) got its start as a closed Facebook group in January 2016. Pittman invited every woman she knew in Brunswick County with the goal of connecting ladies who love to run or who wanted to start running. Then, she started in-person recruiting — on her runs or driving around town, if she ever saw a woman running alone or women she hadn’t met yet, she waved them down to tell them about the group.

In one year, 100 women joined the LLRs Facebook group. The next year, the Leland Lady Runners had the largest team at the WILMA Dash, and in 2018, they earned the title for a second time with 77 runners. Today, the group has more than 330 members and is applying to become an official nonprofit organization.

“You don’t have to accept the norm,” Pittman says during a drop-in meet-up with fellow LLRs. “You can see opportunities and create them where you are.”

While the average Leland Lady Runner is in her 30s or 40s, the group has members of all ages, from teens to 70s and older. Pittman carefully vets Facebook requests to protect the group, and she works to pair new members with runners who are close in age, pace and location, like their own neighborhood. While many runners have been lifelong athletes, many others are just getting started or getting back into running post-pregnancy. “We get as excited about one mile as we do about the other end of the spectrum,” Pittman says. The group currently has a team training for the Southern Tour Ultra, a 50K trail run and 50-mile relay race. 

Lauren Clark, a marathon runner, joined the group after Pittman flagged her down from her car. “Nine months after having my daughter, I needed something,” Clark says. “I was a health and wellness coach telling my patients, who often suffered with mental health issues, that they needed to exercise and eat healthy, and I wasn’t doing it. So I took a dose of my own medicine, and that’s when I fell in love with it.”

Lisa James had been running her whole life but didn’t sign up for her first race until the age of 50. She discovered the group when Clark’s LLRs t-shirt and its characteristic pop of pink caught her eye at a race. The t-shirt shows a feminine figure with a long ponytail dashing forward. Tough runs don’t last, tough runners do, it reads. After asking Clark about the group and checking it out online, James was hooked.

Leland Lady Runners provides an opportunity to find running meet-ups throughout the week no matter the distance or time, as well as support and inspiration from other runners, who regularly share post-run updates. These ladies don’t run in silence, either — many chat throughout their runs.

“The dynamics are very different compared to co-ed running groups,” Pittman says. “Girls like to talk and share their heart. You’re hearing life stories, the daily struggles and bonding through running and sharing. We call it our run therapy.”

Carolyn Heath had run plenty of half and full marathons before she found the LLRs, but after the birth of her child, she struggled to return to running. “I don’t think I would have made it through without all of the love and support I had in the group,” Heath says. “We’re a whole other family, we just happen to run together.” Surrounded by her support system, Heath ran her first 5K after her pregnancy, pushing her stroller in front of her the entire way.

LLRs celebrate their successes with monthly raffles, currently managed by Clark and Ann Maynard, the group’s very first member. Every time someone posts a photo from a race, their name is entered into a drawing for running-related goodies. The winner is announced via live video or at a LLRs event, such as a gathering or anniversary party.

Moving forward, Leland Lady Runners want to continue building their community and giving back with fundraising and their own race series. After Hurricane Florence, they pulled together to plan their first 5K run and fundraiser in just three and a half weeks. The event raised more than $12,500 for 11 families, all flood victims in Brunswick County without flood insurance.

Got Fast Feet?
Interested in joining Leland Lady Runners? There’s no membership fee, and group members can participate as much or as little as they like. Head to Leland Lady Runners on Facebook and request to join.

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