Fleet Feet’s guiding principle is that of “Fitlosophy” – a commitment to a proper fit in all aspects of customers’ lives, from a proper fit in running shoes to an appropriate training program or active lifestyle.
Indeed, Fleet Feet’s wide selections of apparel and running shoes at its flagship outlet in Carrboro attest to this fitting philosophy.
However, one set of shoes is going to be awfully hard to fill: those of departing Training Programs Director Natalie Reder.
Hundreds of athletes impacted by Reder’s unique and magical enthusiasm gathered Saturday at Fleet Feet’s Carrboro store to express their gratitude over the course of a final group run and to reflect on the positive changes Reder has infused into so many lives.
Never miss a local story.
“Natalie gives out shirts that say ‘Change Everything,’ and that’s exactly what she’s done here,” said Meg Pomerantz, a coach with the No Boundaries, or “NoBo” program. “She’s changed how people approach running. They’re not afraid to enter programs anymore; they’re excited, and they realize their goals are achievable.”
Current NoBo coach Sarah McGee recalled a life-altering moment last year when she benefited from Reder’s palpable positivity, proving that there is a beautiful view that often follows an uphill climb.
“There was this one run (up the long hill) on Hillsborough Street where I was just miserable,” McGee said, “but where I happened to be running with Natalie, and I’ll remember that day forever. I got to the top, and I thought, ‘I’m never doing this. I’m not good at it, I don’t like it, and I’m terrible.
“Natalie ran with me the rest of the way back, and I started thinking, ‘I’ve got to stick with this girl.’ She was there for me.”
Fleet Feet Carrboro and Durham store co-owner Brian White said there was no way to measure the influence Reder has had on the running community.
“She’s really one of a kind,” he said. “What she’s done in that position is to truly change lives.”
After five years with Fleet Feet and nearly as long as Director of Training Programs, Reder will assume a new position with the Bell Leadership Institute, an executive coaching / consulting firm in Chapel Hill.
“It’s actually a lot of what I’m doing now, but in a different industry,” Reder said. “I’ll still be touching peoples’ lives; it’s still affecting change.”
Fleet Feet’s many current training programs evolved from a successful women’s running program started by former Fleet Feet Carrboro co-owner Rona Van Willigen. Now, in addition to other programs, almost every Fleet Feet offers its beginners’ co-ed No Boundaries training.
In addition to the coaches and mentors, NoBo has also attracted sponsors and community support, including Proaxis Physical Therapy, New Balance and Whole Foods. As Fleet Feet’s staple training program, No Boundaries nationally boasts more than 20,000 participants annually.
Reder said her love of running was solidified early on.
“When I was in college, I was stressed out a lot: overwhelmed,” she said. “I was struggling with a lot of anxiety. I naturally gravitated to running as a way of dealing with all of that.
“Then I trained for a marathon my senior year in college … and just remember that being a beautiful time in a period filled with a lot of unknowns, a lot of chaos. Running gave me direction and focus.”
Hired by Fleet Feet as a sales associate in 2009, Reder was asked only months later by Brian White and Fleet Feet co-owner Tricia White to lead their training programs.
“It was mostly because of Natalie’s personality and organizational skills,” White said. “In the last four-and-a-half years, she’s really built the programs into what they’ve become.”
“I told Brian and Tricia that I really wanted to work with people,” Reder said. “I wanted to spread the (love of) running. They had a NoBo program running ... and it had just opened up to both men and women, and it was just beginners’ NoBo. When it was clear that that was going well, they asked me, ‘Great, can you start a 10K training program ... and half-marathon and marathon programs?’ It really took off.”
Reder estimated that, in 2013, local Fleet Feet training programs had around 1,000 participants, up from around 800 the year before and around 500 the year before that.
“Even with repeat participants, from 2009 to 2014, we’ve had participation has easily been in the thousands,” Reder said.
NoBo currently comprises numerous subgroups that target runners with varied goals, ranging from walking a 5K to improving their time through speed and hill work.
Even with the proliferation of different programs, however, Reder’s gift for motivating and inspiring is perhaps most keenly felt by new runners in the NoBo programs.
“She’s become a close friend, but she’s an incredible mentor,” said participant Rose Gray. “Her enthusiasm for running is infectious. She’s got such a positive attitude, and she’ll be greatly missed.”
“I wrote her a card this week, and I just thanked her for her amazing smile, her passion, her enthusiasm,” NoBo runner Nana Morelli said. “It was a whole paragraph of words describing what she’s come to mean to me. She’s just a ball of love and energy. That’s why mentors and coaches stay on with the program.”
Sue Millager has been a NoBo coach and mentor for almost four years.
“I signed up as a participant, but Natalie has a way of roping you in,” Millager said. “You can’t say no to her.”
All agreed that anyone hired to fill Reder’s position would be subjected to natural comparisons.
“We’ve had some really good candidates, and it’ll be a tough decision, which really speaks highly of Natalie,” White said. “It’s an attractive position, but any change is tough.”
“We’re not going to find another Natalie,” White added, “so our goal is to have someone come in and build on what she’s done--we’re looking forward to seeing where that’ll take us. But whoever we hire has the luxury of coming into a really great system, and I’d also want them to sit down with Natalie even for just one day.”
And Reder recognizes that the parting will be tough on her as well.
“The part that’s hard is leaving the relationships here with the participants,” she said. “It’ll be hard to replace that energy and activity.”
So while both Reder and Fleet Feet’s training programs may be in for a bit of an uphill climb, as runners are so keen to point out, a beautiful view is sure to follow.
“What I want participants to know, though, is that they’ve changed my life,” Reder said. “When I came in here I wanted a community and a sense of belonging, and I got that gift in more ways than I could have possibly imagined. I feel like that gets glossed over, but I think it’s important to let people know that they’ve given me more than I could ever repay.”