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

Running along Front Street, just before the halfway mark.

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.

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. 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 …

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