Fitness instructor brings her passion for lifelong health to running and wellness retreats for women
Those who’ve had the pleasure of running—or doing anything fitness-related for that matter, with Janet Baker Curl, will tell you that her enthusiasm and playful approach makes physical fitness for health and longevity fun. Curl, who lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband of 24 years, built a foundation of discipline as a collegiate rower at Boston University in the 80’s.
In 2003, she founded FitFirst, through which she organized groups of men and women aged 35 to 70 to meet up for pre-dawn full-body conditioning workouts. Now at 59 years old, she combines her curiosity for mindfulness–first uncovered during a 10-day silent Buddhist meditation retreat in Thailand–with her passion for travel and self-propelled outdoor sports in nature, to the mindful running retreats for women that she leads for Run Wild Retreats + Wellness.
Is running for you about competition, or way to work out?
I used to love having a 10k, half marathon or full marathon goal to pursue. Yet, as these goals came and went throughout my life, more and more I still felt motivated to run whether I had a race on the calendar or not. Over the last decade, I rarely race. Instead of training with a goal of a distance or a personal record (PR), I now run with the focus of tuning in to my body and my breath.
What role is mindful running playing as a mature woman?
While I’ve long enjoyed running for how it affects body and in my mind, it wasn’t until my first trips with Run Wild Retreats + Wellness that I began to think of it as a mindfulness practice. When this term came up in the retreats’ sharing circle, I was pleased to have a term to capture what I’d been doing for decades for my personal physical fitness for health!
What is most fulfilling about being a retreat leader?
Being a retreat leader is my self-actualization as a fitness instructor. This work takes my commitment to life-long health and fitness to the next level. Leading retreats lets me show women of all ages that running mindfully is something that they can do throughout their lives. It’s a wonderful opportunity to connect with women and share experiences and create a community of support that lasts long after the retreat.
How do you prepare before leading a retreat?
I have a good fitness base, but leading up to a retreat, I need to safely boost my running mileage from my usual four-mile runs to more like six or seven, without causing wear and tear on my aging hips and knees. I run these miles mindfully, which to me, means having no concern for how fast I’m running or how far. I often run alone; without music or podcasts. The first couple of miles pass quickly, and just when I look down at my watch to see how far I’ve gone, I take some deeper, more thoughtful breaths, scan my body for tension to release and notice what feels good. I may stop for water or to take a picture, just as we do on a retreat. These runs are pure pleasure for me and to my surprise, the miles fly by. After the run’s done my split times tell me that some of my fastest miles are the last ones. Instead of tiring, I was just getting going!
How do you know you’re an effective retreat leader?
I’m doing my part when the women on the retreats feel safe and supported while doing something they love! I can give information and insights into their running technique on the trail, and then I really know that was helpful by what they say about that experience in the sharing circles.
How would you describe your leadership style? What would other people say about what kind of leader you are?
I describe my leadership style as dependable and consistent. I am direct with my instructions and set clear expectations. In this way, I empower people to be their best selves. I support them by being available and ready to help where necessary, but at the same time, being part of the group. My clients describe my leadership style as cheerful, caring, clear and a community builder. I’ve dubbed this the four c’s of Curl leadership!