The first event was a social hour on Friday evening. We were nervous going into this, but the National Program Director, Debbie Mercer, greeted us with a hug and made us feel welcome. We got a drink and some appetizers and schmoozed our way around the room, eventually meeting up with the peeps from USAFit Montgomery, which is another small group on the outskirts of Houston. This was the group whose member, Amy, ran the USAFit Half Marathon in January, and who had the signs that said "GO AMY!". Our Amy told them how much she appreciated the signs, and I asked that they please include my name next year, lol. We hung out with them and a couple other ladies for a while longer, and then a lot of the group left to continue the party, while we went upstairs to our rooms - we'd had a very early start to our day and were pretty tired.
The next morning, we went downstairs to the conference room, where we had a small continental breakfast and then the meetings began. It was nice to put faces to names, and get to know in person the people I've only dealt with online (for creating the schedule, or updating our website/Facebook page, and the graphic designer). We broke for lunch, and then in the afternoon they had a couple of seminars - one was on race walking and the other was on a pretty intense cross-training program; neither of which we will be doing with our group. They also had a shirt exchange - generally you end up with extra program shirts at the end of your training season, so the organizers brought their shirts to trade. I only had three unclaimed shirts, but many of the bigger groups had a bunch. Amy and I each got several shirts, plus I grabbed one for Jeff. It was fun to see all the different designs that other groups chose
Clockwise from top left: Breakfast on day one; shirts laid out for the exchange; the view from the back of the room; Amy beating the men during the racewalk demo!
We had a few hours off in the late afternoon on Saturday, and then we reconvened for dinner. It was fun to compare stories with other USAFitters, and toward the end of the meal we were asked to share any inspirational stories about our members from the previous season. My shyness took over and I couldn't bring myself to stand up and talk, but I would have talked about our youngest member, Love, if I had been brave enough to address the crowd. After dinner a bunch of people left to go out again - I swear, I don't know where they get that kind of energy! I was ready to relax in my room.
On our last morning, breakfast was scheduled for 8:00 am with a Q&A session beginning at 9:00 am. Amy and I weren't enthralled with the breakfast or the coffee from the previous day, so we decided to go to Beans and Brews, a local coffee roaster. Only (and good thing we checked ahead of time) the nearest location was closed on Sunday! On our way out of the hotel, we found Michelle from Montgomery and Scott from Katy, so we all set out together. Scott suggested a French bakery that he went to the day before. Perfect! Off we went, only to find that it was closed:
Oh, we were sad. Scott talked this place UP as we were walking to it.
Guess what WAS open in Downtown SLC on Sunday? Starbucks. Nice, dependable Starbucks. We sat for a while, with our coffee and scones, and quizzed Scott about how he runs his program - it's very different from ours and Michelle's as he has well over 600 members. I got some good ideas that I think will translate well to our smaller group, plus Scott was pretty funny to hang with. We went back to the conference before 9:00, but discovered that they had started the Q&A session already. They were talking sponsorships, which was the one thing I was really interested in, as I didn't do anything with that last season (shoot, we were lucky to get the program up and running with the short time-frame we ended up having). So that was a little frustrating, to know we'd missed about 45 minutes, but we were going by their schedule. I think this was the most informative part of the entire conference, actually...at least for us and where we are with our program. We had to cut out of the session a little early in order to get to the airport; maybe next year they can schedule this on Saturday so more attendees can participate - we weren't the only ones who had to leave early.
We were given some goodies for coming to the conference - a nice backpack that ended up being perfect for traveling home, a conference t-shirt (I misjudged the sizing and mine is a little big, oh well), and we each got a Fuel Belt handheld water bottle or belt (they randomly set each one at our places while we were up watching a demonstration and I lucked out with getting the belt - I've been thinking about going back to using one so this will be nice to have):
Organizer perks - sweet!
Overall, this was a great experience and I'd probably go again next year, depending on the location (it changes each year). I came into it thinking that ours was one of the few smaller groups but discovered that there are more like us than I realized; I just wish we could have had a dedicated time for like-sized groups to exchange ideas. Maybe that will happen next year.