United in Running
Nearly three years ago, Sarah Maxwell was running Women of Wonder in Seattle. The 10K was her first race after her first marathon a few months prior, and it was a struggle.
But then she noticed a woman wearing the same orange flower as she had in her hair. The two struck up a conversation, which not only led to a friendship but also helped Sarah through the final mile.
“We crossed the finish line holding hands,” she says. “I’ve met so many great people because of the flowers.”
For Sarah, a managing partner with husband Grant Harrington of the Snohomish Running Company, which produces races in Washington’s Snohomish and King counties, Fellow Flowers’ signature flowers are a powerful symbol of the reasons why women run.
“I always wear a flower, whether I’m directing a race or running in it,” she says. “Some people know me for that.”
While running is an integral part of Sarah’s life today, she didn’t start lacing up her sneakers until she became a mother. In seeking help for terrible post-partum depression, a therapist suggested she do something just for herself. Something like running.
So Sarah jogged a loop around her block, and soon built up to two miles. When her son Isaac was three years old, she ran her first 10K. As she began delving into longer distances, she found Fellow Flowers — and her first flower.
“Red stood out to me,” she says. “It’s the only flower I wore for about a year. I always go back to red.”
When Sarah met Grant, who also had a young son, in addition to the running company, he asked her to help with a new race. As she became involved with the Snohomish Women’s Run half marathon and 10K, she became even more intrigued by the goals and motivators that get women racing.
The race, which winds along the banks of the Snohomish River in Everett, Washington, began with about 800 runners in 2015. It’s since grown to 1,400 participants, in large part due to the positive and supportive spirit it fosters.
“There’s not that sense of competition as with some other races,” Sarah says. “It’s not checking each other out at the starting line. It’s hugging and camaraderie and fellowship and support. It’s women taking their shirts off and running in their sports bras. It’s everyone smiling in the sunshine.”
That’s not to say the runners don’t have serious goals in mind, or major barriers to push past to get to the finish line. They do, and that’s what makes it so tough for Sarah and her team to be making changes to this year’s race, due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The race has already been rescheduled for June 6, instead of its typically early May date, and a plan is in place to keep runners socially distanced. But additional changes may be necessary.
No matter when or how the race takes place, Sarah is doing all she can to keep the spirit and community of the event thriving. That includes giving the Fellow Flower orange flower — and its Fiercely United message — to all 800 women registered to run this year.
“I am so excited, honestly,” she says. “I have happy tears. It’s such a small thing overall, literally just a little flower. But it’s been such a big part of my running journey. The idea that I can give 800 women a flower, that just makes me so happy.”
Sarah can’t wait to introduce her community of runners to Fellow Flowers and its sisterhood of active women around the world. She hopes the flower resonates with her runners, as it has with her, and pushes them to “help find that thing inside them,” their beautiful and unique reason for running.
“I want them to be proud of themselves,” Sarah says. “To feel accomplished. To feel this is something you did for yourself. And to feel connected to the rest of us.”
– Katie Vaughn