I remember one time shopping in Fleet Feet and one of the employees asked me if I ran with their groups. I said, “No. I run alone. I don’t like running in groups.” Funny, now, to think about that. How much I used to look at running in a group as a challenge and something to avoid. The difference is that I no longer stress out about the speed of the people I run with. Part of this is because I’ve gotten faster, so I’m capable of higher speeds than I used to be able to run. But mostly I think I’ve learned something about people who run in groups: If you’re really concerned about your pace, you do not run with a group of people with paces you do not know. So I just don’t stress about it anymore.
There are a few regulars in my running group who are substantially faster than me. When they need to worry about speed, I notice that sometimes they run earlier and faster before we meet. But when they get with the group? They just run the pace of the group. Sometimes a faster group will break out like last night, but most of the time we stay together. And sometimes someone says, “This is too fast,” like I did last night and we slowed down.
I want to reinforce this because I know that I was scared about running in groups for a long time. I’m too slow! I don’t know anyone! How do I get started? I know many of you have told me the same things. But I want this to be the most important message: Running groups have made me a runner. They have helped me learn to love to run…to depend on running. And I am no longer scared of finding new groups to join.
I think the turning point was the first time I met a group and it was just me and someone SUPER DUPER FAST. They slowed down a bit and I sped up a bit and we did 4+ miles together just fine. I was definitely dead at the end, but we did it. And I learned to no longer worry about the speed of other runners because they don’t show up if they’re concerned about that. I kept saying, “If I’m going to slow, feel free to run ahead…” and he would politely reassure me that we were fine. I know now that if he wasn’t comfortable with a slower pace? He wouldn’t have been looking for people to run with.
On my mid-week runs, my groups usually run 4′ish miles. Sometimes I end up doing that at a 8:25 pace, and sometimes I do that at a 11+ pace. It just depends on who I run with and how any of us were feeling. Last night I was the one asking to slow down. Sometimes it’s someone else.
There’s a Facebook group set up for runners in my city. They post weekly runs, and other runners make requests for groups in certain areas of town. I also have other groups that have formed from training programs at Fleet Feet. I rarely have to run sans people and the question of their pace as it compares to mine? Never matters. I meet the groups because I want to run with them. And if they have to slow down for me? I know they don’t mind or else they wouldn’t show up. It’s taken me awhile to be comfortable with that. And I’ve met a few groups that were substantially faster than me and I struggled during the run. One, I even ditched early because they were too fast. But you know what? That’s okay. I still got some miles in and it’s good to be pushed faster once in awhile.
I just don’t want any of you who might be like me – prone to enjoy group running – to be too scared to give it a try. You might be too worried about slowing people down. But it won’t matter. There are runners just like you out there, trying to find people to run with. I’m thrilled with the peer group I’ve made running, and I want everyone who could benefit from the same thing to try to find the same group. Give Facebook a try. Search in your area. Call your local Fleet Feet and see if they know of any organized runs (Our Fleet Feet knows about most of them) or see if they know of any local running groups on Facebook. If Huntsville has one, I’m sure other cities do as well.
I just know what a huge impact it has made on my life, having running friends. I don’t want anyone else to miss out on that opportunity because they’re too worried about slowing people down. My running friends hold me accountable and understand my struggles. I want you to find the same people in your life. They’ll run the same races you do because they’re local. They’ll be able to recommend doctors and local gear shops. The best thing they do is introduce you to new places to run around your city. I have several new areas I’m comfortable running in now. Last night someone led us in a run that took us right under the Saturn V rocket at the Space and Rocket Center. I would have never known about that route without a group to meet.
And then you might find other things in your group – like people who watch the same TV you do, or read the same books. It’s amazing the other connections formed within my groups. I consider most of them friends now, not just running buddies.
Just don’t be afraid to try. You might still hate it. But you might find some people who push you to be the runner you know you can be. And if you don’t know you can be that runner, they will and they’ll help push you there if you need it.