My group, my people (or how I put fear aside and got turned on to group running)

All those pink shirts! All but two had finished their race, but turned around to walk the others back in. (Photo borrowed from our First Steps Facebook group)

 

Running has always been a loner gig for me.

Alone on training runs. Alone on race days. Alone and loving it.

Maybe it’s because of my Myers-Briggs type (INTJ for those in the know). Maybe it’s because of the way my mind starts to wander once I’ve been out for more than 1o minutes. To be honest, there’s a part of me that loves running alone because it’s one of the few times of the day that I can be alone. There’s a lot of value in that.

My crew – the ladies of Appalachian Running Company’s First Step program. Photo from Appalachian Running Company’s Facebook page.

I could never understand the attraction of a group run. Aside from a CrossFit class that really just turned out to be too intense, my experience in any form of group exercise has been limited to being chosen last in gym class in high school and suffering through an aerobics class in college to fulfill a P.E. requirement. Why would I want to relive that experience while I shuffled along at the back of an otherwise swift pack?

But, here’s the thing.

Sometimes the team doesn’t choose you – you choose the team.

The pack isn’t always swift.

I won’t always shuffle.

Eight weeks ago, I stifled my fear of being last, of not being able to keep up, of meeting new people and signed up for the First Step running program at Appalachian Running Company. It used an interval training plan to prepare us for a 5K race (more on that in a future post). Two times a week, a rather determined group of women gathered at the store or at a nearby trail for a group run. On Monday nights, our awesome crew of coaches  and guests taught us about a variety of topics related to running – nutrition, strength training, hydration, dressing for the weather and more.

The first night I knew I had chosen the right team. There was no sense of competition or pushing ourselves to the point of exhaustion. Instead, there was chatter, laughter and the occasional waves of encouragement.

We all obviously had different foundations on which we were building so the faster women went faster and the slower women went slower … and nobody cared! It only took a few weeks until I found that a few of us were fairly consistently near each other on every run. The pack, I had learned, had speeds as varied as the personalities in it.

But, as we were getting to know each other, encouraging each other and growing in our newfound friendships, the training program was doing its work. I can’t speak for anyone else about any of these things that I have discovered, but I know it is especially true that I can’t speak in terms of pace or speed. What I do know is that my running pace, generally, has improved dramatically over the eight weeks of the class.

Even as the program neared its grand finale in the Logan’s Run for Autism, a 5K in Harrisburg, I still wavered on my thinking about group runs. I had found there was a lot to like about a group run, but I still had an affinity for being alone.

Then something happened on race day. You can see it in the photo above. Most of the group had finished the race, but two of the women were still out on course. Without barely a thought, the entire crew – all of whom had just finished their own 5K – went back out to walk the last two ladies in.

That sense of community – that sense of no woman left behind – helped me learn to love the group run. These are women who would have encouraged me through to the end had I started to falter along the course. They are the ones who stayed near the finish line cheering as each one of us finished.

The run itself is the vehicle to the community that is being created among the people in it.

And now, it’s become a group I can’t imagine running without …

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing last and winning {Capital 10-miler}

The view of the skyline as I crossed the bridge with under two miles to go.

A few months ago, I had an utterly ridiculous idea.

I saw a Facebook post announcing the date of the Capital 10-miler – A Race for the Arts. Now, I’m a pushover for supporting the arts, and I have been making valiant efforts at improving my running and cycling skills – not because of any perceived, yet negligible talent, but because I love the challenges both can provide.

You can see where this is going.

I was ever so happy to see the halfway marker!

Despite having never once run more than six miles or even attempted to do a run/walk combination on anything so long, I signed up for the race and set about training. It was spotty at best in the early days, as I took advantage of the unusually frequent warm days to go outside for a run. I’ve even been training with a program through my local running company (s/o Appalachian Running Company).

When race day dawned – no kidding – on April Fools Day, I had only the thought of finishing the race. Time didn’t matter. The challenge for me was to go the distance.

That doesn’t mean it was easy around mile 4 when the runners who started 45 minutes after me – at the real start of the race – caught up and passed me.

It wasn’t easy when I was running/walking along the Susquehanna River and looked up to see the winners running across the bridge to the finish line at about the same time that I passed the 6-mile sign.

It wasn’t easy when first single runners and then little groups of runners ran past me with seemingly little effort.

It wasn’t easy when the wind nearly whipped my hat off as I crossed the bridge twice in the final miles.

But that’s the stuff stories are made of. That’s the stuff you laugh about when you’re telling your friends about the ridiculous idea you had to sign up for a race.

When the race results sheet shows that you’ve placed dead last among the 200-plus runners, you realize that you’re still a winner. You crossed a finish line in a race that plenty of others dared not start. You realize with some degree of surprise that you can indeed walk the next day, and you aren’t nearly as stiff as you thought you might be.

Then, after a bit of ice cream, a good night’s sleep, and some tea and stretches on a beautiful morning., you make another crazy decision.

And think to yourself, “Maybe next year, I can get to mile six before they catch me.”

 

Republic of Tea’s Biodynamic Tumeric and Cinnamon Tea – perfect for the morning after the race..