12/21/2021 Women of the Wasatch
Relatively new at just over a year old, Women of the Wasatch is an SLC-based running group that’s already making a big impact. We asked founder Meredith Johnson to tell us about the origins of the group, some highlights from this past year, and what the group still aims to achieve.
Tell me about Women of the Wasatch - What is the group’s mission, what do you all do, and why?
Our mission is to encourage all women to take to the trails. We want to make trail running more accessible by highlighting women runners to show that everyone can be an athlete.
We want to leave our mark on the greater SLC area by hosting community events with craft partners, investing in the future of trail running through youth programs, maintaining our trails, and volunteering for local races.
What is the history of the group - who started it and why focus on inclusivity?
I started this group in October of 2020. When I first moved here in 2019, I struggled to find women to train with. Most of my training partners were male and had different goals than me. I knew women trail runners were out there but didn’t see a channel that existed to connect us. Originally it started out as a group of 10 and we've already grown to over 200 members. I heard of other women runners through friends of friends, Instagram, and Strava, so I reached out to invite them to run! More folks in the group felt empowered to start inviting friends when we were solidifying our group in the winter - women even heard of us through Bumble BFF. In March 2021, we created an Instagram for our group and started marketing our meetups that way. The momentum really picked up from there!
Inclusivity and community go hand in hand. We strive to be more than just a running group, but rather use running as the spark that brings our community together. Our group enables runners of all types to take to the trails. It's awesome to see folks who have never trail run before come to the same meetups as those training for 100 milers. When I was forming the group, I wasn’t just looking for training partners - I was looking for a way to connect women. I wanted Women of the Wasatch to have an instant community to rely on for not only training, but weekend trips, wine nights, book clubs, and more.
Why trail running for bringing together women?
Trail running historically has been male-dominated and we are looking to change that. We saw a need for it in the local community as there are some male/ co-ed groups but we couldn’t find women-oriented ones.
As for trail running, it is pretty accessible, a great way to explore the Wasatch, and selfishly one of our favorite hobbies.
How has the group been received by the community?
We are always open to feedback, but it seems to be going really well. Our group is continuing to grow, we have gotten praise from other organizations that we have partnered with, and glowing member feedback. We are still in the early stages but hoping to continue to make a positive impact for our members and in the greater Wasatch community!
How many members do you have?
~300 and counting!
What have been some of the highlights of the group since starting?
We love our weekly runs! We have also had some great experiences with volunteering at several races, trail maintenance with other orgs and foundations, planning trips to Grand Canyon and Zion, and hosting fun events that aren’t always centered around running (PRIDE march, backyard BBQs, visiting breweries, etc). We’ve even had pre-run talks on mental health and nutrition. Professional athletes Caroline Gleich, Leah Yingling, Jessie Gladish shared their stories with our members. We’re also doing joint meetups with other running communities - we just connected with @_wildwomenrunning in Phoenix, Arizona.
What does having a women’s specific trail running group do for the trail running community and women in general?
Having women’s specific trail running groups helps start to close the gender gap that exists in trail running.
The best part is that this group is a place you can come to just be yourself. The majority of our member feedback is around the gratitude of it being welcoming, judgement-free, and always having a buddy to run with!
As for women in general, it is a great resource for asking questions, making connections, and having a safe place to talk about whatever is on the mind.
Some major highlights that have come from this group are (both running related and not):
-First ultra finishes
-Longest run postpartum
-Puppies being fostered
-Podium race finishes
-New jobs from connections in the group
-Encouragement to go back to school to pursue a new career
-Emotional support during life’s transitions
Who is the group for, skills-wise?
Anybody who wants to run on the trail! There is a huge range of members ranging from podium finishers at ultras to people just getting into the sport!
When we first started, there were several people who had never run (period) come to our meetups! And now they’re crushing the trails and have elevated their experience levels from beginner to intermediate.
I want to make sure every season we have the opportunity to recapture that beginner audience, whether that’s through intro to trail running workshops or always having a “fun run” pace group.
How does anyone interested in joining find out more about the group and joining events?
Anyone who identifies as female and wants to run with us is welcome to check us out and join on www.womenofthewasatch.com or DM us on Instagram @womenofthewasatch_.
We are also hoping to have open quarterly community runs where anyone can join! We’ve heard that lots of men of the Wasatch are jealous of all the fun we’re having. We’ve decided to let them join in on the fun from time to time!
What’s coming up next or in the works?
As WOW rapidly expands, we recognize the need to create a badass brand and team of women to help build its structure and support the growth of this community. This fall, we stood up a leadership team that covers three areas: Outreach, Marketing, and Operations.
We will be incentivizing and rewarding members to volunteer through our group - whether that be trail maintenance, youth running group support, or volunteering at an aid station. To those who volunteer, we will be offering “premium” member benefits such as discount codes or free shoes. We are super grateful for the traction and support we are receiving from some of the brands we have worked with!
In general, what does the future of the group look like?
We are currently focusing on building an inclusive community of women “outdoorists” in the Wasatch. To do this:
I want to put QR codes in different areas of town so we’re not relying on Instagram to “target people like your followers”.
I want to foster a space both online and in-person at meetups where people feel comfortable showing up as they are and feel accepted for their true selves. We plan to have meetups to promote individuality and what makes each and every one of us special and worthy!
Lastly, we’ll continue to focus on giving back to the trails and community in the Wasatch and being the go-to resource and support system for women in the area!
To close, can you give a specific example or story from a member that shows why WOW was special to them?
Here’s a story from member Jo Ann Sab: I am terrified of heights. Or so I thought. Since meeting this incredible group of ladies I have been inspired and have grown in so many ways. The way that this happens is very special in this group though. The Women of the Wasatch don’t inspire you by just telling you that you can do it. They make you feel accepted immediately from day one and you feel this genuine energy that they are so happy you are there. They radiate this strong and empowered energy so much so that you can’t help but absorb it yourself. When someone sets a goal, everyone immediately rallies both behind and around it. When I wanted to summit more mountains, there were women there at the ready asking me what days I was free and which mountains we should do first.
When we decided to do Lone Peak, I was excited but mostly terrified. I spent the days leading up to it watching YouTube videos of the summit to try to figure out if I would even be able to do it. I was never pushed into anything, and even running up the trail to the cirque, the ladies who joined me helped me just focus on calm positive vibes and not overthink it. They talked me through every step so much that I didn’t even realize how high we were or how close to the summit we were getting. I had been told by another friend that there was a less scary geographical marker at a lower spot that I could stop at and still feel good about. I asked where that was at one point and how far the summit was and was told that that was ages ago and we were almost there! A few times I wasn’t sure I’d be able to continue, and in those moments my friends were extremely patient and supportive of whatever I decided. Because of their calm support, I felt like I could take my time and really feel safe and secure in whatever I decided and ended up deciding to trust myself and continue on to the top.
Once we came back down past the cirque and onto flat land again, I felt incredible. I achieved something that I thought was out of reach for me and did it with the support and strength of these ladies I didn’t know that well not long ago but felt so connected to through sharing miles and pushing ourselves through hard things together. I feel empowered to do so much more thanks to the support and belief in me that these women have. And the best part is, to these ladies it was just a fun day with friends. It comes so naturally to lift everyone up and to help them be the best version of themselves. I only hope to pay it forward and spread that energy and support to the others in our incredible community, and am so grateful to be a part of it!