Group Running

running_clip_artAs a solo, Ipod-listening runner, I am relatively new to group runs. I usually run alone or on a treadmill. For the first mile I pant and wheeze, but then I get into a physical rhythm that is soothing, allowing me to daydream or fantasize, or sometimes even develop ideas for writing or teaching. Someone once remarked that I grin wildly at times when I am running: there is a reason.  I am almost always conscious of that serotonin surge that happens in the midst of a long run: believe me, no drug is like it. And while that physically joyous feeling slowly recedes after a run, it lingers for hours afterwards. 

I’ve done some 5Ks and 10Ks with groups of people, but after a few minutes, I’m usually running on my own: not fast enough for the semi-elite runners, not slow enough for the “chatty cathies” on a weekend jog, but somewhere in between. 

But for the last few weekends I’ve been going on group runners–supposed “training” for the 1/2 marathon I’m doing next month.  It’s not exactly “training” however: it’s more of a “we set up a trail and measured it so now go run, don’t get lost, and make sure you finish because we aren’t keeping track of you, but we’ll give you a granola bar when you’re done” sort of training run. There are usually around 100 of us there at 8am.  We have progressed from 7 miles, to 9, to 11 miles this last weekend, all along the same forest trail that the 1/2 marathon will be on, so in that way, it has been training: I’m getting familiar with all the rocks and tree stumps, uphills and downhills, shady spots and sunny spots that I will encounter during the big 13.1 mile run. 

And I’m getting to know people, too, though not their names, yet. Most of the other runners know each other. During my first time joining the group (during a lovely spring snow storm at 8am—so it was 30 degrees outside…brrrr), I was alone on the barely marked trail fairly quickly, debating whether I should just slow down and join the chatty cathies in the back, when I realized I was close to the runner ahead of me.  I decided to stay with her for the rest of the run, if possible. She kept me running through the snow, and being with her I didn’t get lost. I call her My Melissa. This time, though, she sprinted ahead of me, so now I’m doubly thankful that she was a bit slower, perhaps for my sake, during my first time. 

This weekend I ran for several miles with 2 guys (and as a novice runner, I can’t lie—-it was good to be as fast–or as slow– as they were).  I couldn’t quite pass the one in front of me for a bit, and the one behind me refused to pass, so we just ran within a few feet of each other on the single track trail for several miles.  I thought it odd that physical closeness, but not in a creepy way, because I’d seen other groups run that close together,  so I went along with it: since the trail was mostly uphill at this point, the physical closeness forced me to keep pace with them. A powerful competitive streak that refused to allow me to pull off the trail and let them both sprint ahead of me? The guy in front looked to be a good 10 years younger than me—WatchMan, I’ll call him, since he checked his watch nearly every 2 minutes. He was speedy on the downhills, but slow everywhere else.  Finally I just passed him. But before that the guy behind me, let’s call him the Greek God (he had what sounded to me like a Greek accent and look to him, plus he was tall and lean and nice looking), yelled out that we were passing the 9 mile mark.  He eventually passed both me and WatchMan, sprinting up that last hill toward the finish on those long, lean legs…

After the run, I checked another WatchMan’s watch (a piece of equipment I probably should invest in): 1 hour and 53ish minutes for 11 miles. Not my fastest time, but damn I feel good about it. 

The group runs are so different than the treadmill runs at the gym where the same group tends to run at the same time on winter mornings: there is some chatting, but mostly we are all focused on speed or distance.  We each have our favorite treadmill, too, which is amusing at times as you see a runner abruptly turn off the treadmill he or she is on to leap to a favorite one just vacated by someone else. 

I like the one that is closest to the window so I can see and feel the sunshine.

Winters are long here, and now that this one is finally turning to spring, I’m running outside more.  Less time doing the treadmill dance.

Distance running is new for me: I wasn’t a runner until last year (though I did try briefly a few years ago before I was tricked into administrative work which sucked me of all physical and emotional energy for 3 years).   Now I’ve been running seriously for a year, and I can’t imagine stopping: it’s very addicting.   

I live in such a runners’ town that I think I’ll be able to keep this running up. I hope so.  I’ve been buying new clothes to fit the newly athletic body I’ve developed (and giving away the old clothes).  And I do love the new clothes.  And I truly love being able to eat without gaining weight. Plus that joyous surge: can’t beat that.

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