Malika Austin Running to the Life Of The Party

Photos by RCS Images

In our run community we are all runners at various stages and levels of our individual journey. There are some runners who have the need for speed, others that are middle of the pack, others that are simply there for the experience and thrill and then there’s The Life of The Party runners. Runners that essentially make every mile a party no matter what the distance is. In 2018 Malika started training for her second NYC Marathon. Malika Austin stated “As a “back of the pack” runner still learning the ropes, I wanted to give my fellow runners a place to feel comfortable and capable”. Malika knew that she wanted to bring a different vibe to the run world. While running a few fellow runners mentioned, “the life of the party”. This essentially led to the creation of Life of The Party runners where the goal is to remind runners that as they work on their goal they should always remember TO RUN HAPPY!

MSM: Runners all have different goals during a race. What most of us fail to realize at times is that we forget to enjoy the race. Seeing what Life of The Party runners is about it feels like a breath of fresh air for myself included. As you launched this officially in 2018 what was running like for you prior to 2018?

Malika: Prior to launching in 2018 running was unknown territory that I was slowly getting familiar with. I would show up, at times unprepared, run, and go home. I tackled my very first NYC Marathon in 2017 and I had no clue what I was getting myself into. Unprepared with my longest distance that year being 13.1 miles, I completed my first marathon in 7:35:54. Nevertheless, I knew I wanted more of this run life.

MSM: What was it that drew you into running and the run community?

Malika: I was on the cheerleading teams in high school and in college. I cheered on a scholastic level until the wheels fell off. After that I needed something to fill that athletic void (and get me back in shape). In 2014, I attended the NYCM for the very first time and they (the organizers) were right, as It really does “move you”. I watched my friends who were once my college cheerleading coaches take on 26.2 miles of the greatest city in the world and I said “Wow! I’m gonna do this one day.” 

MSM: MSM: I’m sure LOTP runners include a strong team behind it, who are  some of the members that are behind the scenes?

Malika: My forever coach, Tonika has been a huge help whenever we need custom team gear! I highly recommend her. Garvin does a great job at reminding us to register for the bigger races such as the Brooklyn Half because we know that’s a whole day job! The whole team helps bring the vibes and I am forever thankful for them.

MSM:  Life of the Party runners was created in 2018 prior to the NYCM, Do you guys travel when necessary to other races to support your fellow runners? To create the same vibe and energy that you would bring while running a race?

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Malika: We travel when we can but it can be challenging at times as everyone’s schedules vary. However we do enjoy cheering on as many finishers as possible once we ourselves have crossed a finish line. We were able to make it to some protest runs and walks this summer. Those have become some of my favorite events. As road racing is slowly making a comeback, we will be hitting the streets more.

MSM: MSM: I’ve never been a fan of saying back of the pack runner as I used to be one when I started running, so there’s a different kind of respect factor I have for those runners. We’re all running to get to the same finish. Was there ever a time where you felt intimidated while running in the back of the pack or you’ve seen runners that really picked up on the party vibe where it made the run fully enjoyable for them?

Malika: I’m so glad you brought this up! One thing that many people will tell you about me is that I’m going to get the job done, PERIOD! So I’ve never really felt intimidated. I agree that we are all there for the same reasons:

  • We love to run.
  • We plan to cross the same finish line.

I remember one year when I was at the marathon pavilion in Central Park on Marathon Monday waiting in line to get my medal engraved. I saw a group of runners who are actually a part of a group that I truly admired at the time. One of them made a slick remark asking me how long it took me to finish, this to me wasn’t a genuine question. He was trying to make fun of me. He was laughing because he was MUCH faster. I said something slick in return and left it as that as some people are just plain foolish. Just because you are faster than someone else doesn’t mean that crossing that finish line doesn’t hold the same value across the board. I will say this, THE BACK OF THE PACK IS LIT!! It’s where I started and it will always hold a special place in my heart! It get’s real back there but we hold each other down. And that’s what community is supposed to be! 

MSM: You’re also a cheerleading coach. Was cheerleading something you were always into? Was this something that you’ve tied into LOTP?

Malika: Cheerleading has played a huge part in my life. I cheered at Boys & Girls High School, Brooklyn College, and on an adult all-star competitive team at Iconic Cheer Elite. I didn’t tie it in to LOTP but I am definitely the cheerleader of the group, screaming and yelling and cheering on my team before, during and after a race!

MSM: MSM: 3x NYCM finisher and Chicago finisher and I’m sure countless other races, what are some of the races that were most memorable to you? 

Malika: My first marathon will always be one for the books because you only get ONE first marathon. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order. 

  • PACE RUNS 2019 Wakanda Forever Race this was my dad’s first 5K so it was special. He was 57 years old at the time.
  • Prospect Park Track Club’s Turkey Trot because I’m a traditional gal and love the crazy idea of running a 5 Mile race on Thanksgiving. 
  • Black Men Run’s 2018 Bedstuy 5k! The vibes were great! Can we bring this back??
  • NYRR Brooklyn Half… because it’s Brooklyn DUH! 

MSM: You seem like a runner that thoroughly enjoys the race weekends. I think it’s something, that myself included, I never take in. It’s usually to pick up my bib and leave right away to go eat and rest. You seem to take in every aspect of race weekend. What are some of your favorite race weekend festivities?

Malika: Well it depends on the race. I love a good race expo, post-race shenanigans at the run center or post-race brunch with my team, and Medal Monday celebrations. Life is worth celebrating so I try to enjoy every moment of running. It isn’t always fun but the work is always worth it. I should be more like you and get some rest though. One thing I’m definitely sad about is not having the NYCM race weekend! From the expo, to the fireworks in central park, it’s ALWAYS a good time and gets me super pumped up for the marathon!

MSM: With all these cancelled races how have you been staying active while keeping the life of the party going? See what I did there?

Malika: Hahaaaa very clever!! My race season sadness started with the Tokyo Marathon being cancelled TEN DAYS before I was supposed to fly out. Honestly, that was one of the saddest days for me as a runner. I got in via lottery which is VERY rare for Tokyo so I was extra hype to be going and put on for my city. After realizing that we were going to be stuck in the house for a while I started working out with my mom. We called it “quarantine soca fitness”. It was a nice way for us to bond. I also conducted a virtual balance and stability class with my athletes at Iconic Cheer Elite. With the uncertainty of the pandemic we were forced to first pause our season and ultimately end in person sessions completely. To keep our athletes active and engaged, each coach was assigned a practice day to host a zoom class. In my marathon training I worked on leg strength through balance and stability exercises so I chose that for my workouts with the athletes. Balance and stability is a huge part of what we do in our cheerleading routines.

At the moment I feel like I’m a ZOOM pro now! Lol! I lost some motivation to run because anxiety and stress hit me hard for weeks at a time. It was hard to cope with the anxiety because it hit me out of nowhere! It’s a scary feeling especially when you’ve never experienced it before. A huge help was being comfortable talking to people. I learned that talking through anxiety is healthy, crying is healthy. When you let it out you feel a little better even if it’s just for a few minutes. I honestly don’t know how I would have made it through the beginning of the pandemic if it weren’t for my mom. She encouraged me to journal my thoughts and feelings more. We also worked on breathing exercises together. Slowly, I got back to it. Group runs were not a thing for a while and we all struggled in the beginning to stay motivated so we gave each other challenges to keep up with. We did things like the gallon water challenge and participated in virtual races. SHOUT-OUT TO PACE RUNS FOR EFFECTIVELY TURNING THEIR RACE SCHEDULE TO A VIRTUAL SERIES! Eventually some of us started small group runs on Wednesdays in Prospect Park. With people going back to work, we will be moving our group run to weekends starting in November.

MSM: For races that you’re involved in do you try to set up a meet up prior to starting the race to run together?

Malika: Yes, just call me the MTA guru. Lol I try to set meet up times and locations that are convenient enough so nobody has to travel alone, especially during those dark winter morning commutes. Once we get to a race we usually meet near bag check or at the start.

MSM: We’ve noticed that you’re also a baker, Sweets by Fantab. Runners love sweets. I don’t care how much runners try to deny that. How long have you been a baker and what types of sweets and treats do you offer, also where and how can we support and purchase?

Malika: Everyone loves sweets! You’re right about that! I started baking in high school. It was how I was able to afford my cheerleading uniform. My hit item back then were chocolate lollipops for holidays such as Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those were always fun to make because they came in fun shapes and colors. As I got older I realized I could make this a thing so I practiced more and boom here we are. Some of the items I make are cupcakes, brownies, and cake jars. There’s also an option to upgrade some items with liquor so be sure to check out my baking page on IG at @sweetsbyfantab or you can email me at sweetsbyfantab@gmail.com.

MSM: For our fellow runners and readers how can we stay up to date with LOTP?

Malika:  SLIDE IN MY DMS!! LOL You can find us on Instagram at @LifeOfThePartyRunner, my personal IG @MalikaFantab or you can email us at @LOTPrunners@gmail.com. We have a lot of things in the works for 2021 so get in tune with us. 

MSM: Any last thoughts for our readers?

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Malika: There will be good days and not so good days but always find something to be thankful for. This goes for running and for everyday life. When things get hard, remember why you started. Let that be your happy place!!! KEEP GOING. RUN HAPPY! CROSS THAT FINISH LINE! WHAT EVER YOU DO, WHATEVER THE RESULTS, OWN IT!!!

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