I’ll be honest. I like to run alone. It’s nice to be alone with your thoughts or be lost in your favorite music without feeling like you have to make conversation or “entertain” someone. I have run alone for two years rather consistently with only the occasional run with a friend. On some of those runs I listened to music and ignored them. I like music pumping in my head. It makes me move and I don’t have to hear myself breathing hard.
But, earlier this summer I felt a pull to make some new friends. And, what better way to meet them than running? After all, we have a common interest, if not obsession: Running. Let’s face it, most of my regular friends don’t run or understand why I run. What are you running from, they like to ask.
It was just by chance that after entertaining these sorts of thoughts that I should be standing in one of the many local Starbucks, waiting for my special coffee drink to be concocted, that I noticed a sign on the community bulletin board. It said “Join Our Run Club. We meet at 6pm on Tuesday nights at Lululemon” (which was just down the mall from Starbucks).
I was a little nervous when that first Tuesday evening rolled around. For one thing, I was always a morning runner. Secondly, I can be pretty shy, so going for a run with a group of strangers was a little unsettling even though meeting new people was the point. And lastly and most importantly, what if I couldn’t keep up?
I felt confident about one aspect. The flyer had said they run from the store around town. I run that area—paved bike paths—all the time, so at least the runs would be familiar.
When I got to the store I saw a few young women gathered around a man, the group ambassador. He introduced himself to me and said that we would be running somewhere else: Crown Road. We would have to drive there. I have lived in this area my entire life and I had no idea where that was. Hmmm… The other women were friendly and inviting and one offered to drive a couple of us newbies in her car. At least I wasn’t the only fresh meat.
Crown Road was in a familiar area in a neighboring town way up on the hillside. When we got there I realized this was going to be a different run than I had thought. It was on a trail. I’ve never run on trail. I had on a brand new pair of Brooks Trance running shoes, which I realized now to my own dismay were going to get dirty. Frown. There were more club runners already congregated at the parking lot, previously informed of this meeting spot. They were almost all younger than me by about 2 decades. I was a bit intimidated. Sure enough, as we got started a number of those young wiper snappers took off like horses out of the gate. Bye. All that was left of them was their trail dust. I tried to pay no mind to that fact.
The trail we set out on was a fire road. There were single-track offshoots that spiked from it (runs I would later be introduced to with this group). But this path was nice and wide, albeit very rocky and flanked by lush trees with a killer view of the adjacent towns surrounding the bay. I kept my run tracker, a.k.a. my phone, with me. I was only scheduled to run 5 miles on my half-marathon training plan and I was sticking to it. I ran with a small group of women that were at my pace to the 2.5 mile point on my tracker and told them that I was turning back. The rest of the group was long gone ahead of us. These gals turned around with me, but I ended up alone since one wanted to walk. I didn’t want to be rude and keep running, but I didn’t want to ruin my run, so I keep going anyhow. I wasn’t sure what the group run etiquette was.
While alone I thought, “yeah, I think I like running by myself more than a group.” It’s easier, right? Yet by the end of the run it was kind of nice being with a group who had just done the same thing I had. Let me note here that a few of the youngsters that had taken off early on, and had gone the full distance, had passed me at the end of the run. It was extremely hot that summer evening. I felt parched and quite humbled. But when we all congregated everyone was so nice. We swapped running achievements like what types of races we’d completed. One gal was a tri-athlete. It was inspiring. So I kept going on Tuesday nights. It was only once a week after all. I still had my “me” time runs.
After a few months of this weekly run club one of the members invited me to join her with another social running group… an online meet-up group. They too met to run as a pack. They schedule various runs throughout the week. Mornings, nights, weekends. Every time I go I meet someone new. It’s great!
Running is a great solo sport. When I am alone I can compete with myself if I desire or just take it easy. It’s all up to me. But what I have discovered is this. Running with a group… what can I say… it’s pretty awesome. We all have the same goal: run and have fun. We swap stories of races. More often than not, I find myself listening to them talk about their recent race accomplishments. And how often do I get to run with an ultra-marathoner?… um, NEVER! But with my Lululemon club I do weekly since he is our faithful leader. He never leaves anyone running in the back alone. More often than not, I find myself there and he spurs me on. (In my head I call myself the caboose. Being the last in is okay with me, I’m just glad to be doing it!)
Here is the best part: these runners inspire me-every one of them. I listen to them describe their marathon races, or of our leader’s recent 100-mile ultra. I feel unworthy, and then motivated… ultra-motivated. I think to myself, I can run just like them, so I think I can do a marathon too.
That is what got me to sign up for a marathon next March. The group. Listening to them makes me feel like the impossible is feasible. When I announced my intentions to run it, other members were inspired by me and signed up too. How cool is that? I won’t be alone, because my run club mates will be there too!
So, my advice is this: If you haven’t already tried running with a group, find one (check out Lululemon or other sports stores like Athleta and Online Meet Ups) and do it. I’ve made new friends (friends who are as into running as I am) and I’ve become faster. Running with a group has challenged me to do something different than my usual paved loops or out-and backs. I actually enjoy running on trails now. I am pushed whether I notice it or not. Now, I look forward to my run club and meet ups. It’s like a new adventure every time and I, for one, love it!