(Names somewhat masked because I didn’t ask permission…hope you know who you are)
I’ve always approached running as a solitary activity. After all, no one else can get you from miles 20 to 26.2. It’s you against the Wall and the world. In the past few months, however, I’m starting to rethink my approach and realizing the wealth of opportunities for learning and improvement from running with a group.
My first inkling that I didn’t have to do this all alone came in the December half marathon. Rather than fight the pack of guys who joined me at the mile mark and do my customary “drop ahead or behind, anything to run alone move,” I hung out with them. They told me about the history of a beautiful tree. One shared his experiences coaching a local high school. We pressed on together. We took turns leading but stayed in a pack until mile 8, when it was time for me to drop the proverbial hammer per my race plan. Unlike mile 8 in other half marathons, I was surprised almost an hour had passed. I was surprised to find responsive legs. I was surprised to mourn the loss of my pack.
A further rebuttal of my lone wolf way has crept up on me as I become more involved with the local running group. On Sunday, I joined them for a long run. Not that anyone would believe it, but I am incredibly shy about running with other people. Tell you my life story, pitch you a research paper or sell you ice cubes in January, fine. But you want me to run with you? Um…I got over it and met them for an 8 o’clock run. And I didn’t even vomit from nerves. We set out as a big group, then splintered off as the paces spread out. We got to have those first conversations of “What do you do?” and “What have you run?” and the inevitable Vermont question, “Oh! Do you know so and so?” as we plodded on through snow, slush, ice and wind. Towards the end of the run, there were just 4 of us left. I was badgering M with questions to get him to slow down. In the interim, I was gathering details from everyone’s lives, running and otherwise. In the days following, it has occurred to me that by running alone, I was missing much of the texture of running. I was missing everyone else’s story, everyone else’s “best running lesson ever.” For that matter, I was missing everyone’s best life lesson ever.
This was corroborated on our mini group run tonight. My friend Katie and I planned to run and I wanted to check out SkiRack’s Thursday night fun run, so I convinced her we wouldn’t go too fast and we headed out with S leading us. During the run, I discovered that S not only has a Masters in Sports Psychology, but also manages to balance a travel intensive job with running and coaching. Talk about a wealth of knowledge of which I would be totally unawares if I were out there plodding alone. As I prepare for Boston, and for another racing season, I’m hoping to absorb his knowledge via osmosis.
Running alone some of the time is character building and just a logistical necessity. Especially in smaller marathons, there is a distinct possibility you will spend some time alone and if you aren’t mentally ready, well hang on, it gets really dark in there. However, with highs of 5 this weekend, I admit to looking forward to having other people to share the road with. Looking forward, I’m excited to be a human sponge, soaking up hundreds of cumulative years of racing and running knowledge that I would otherwise be wasting.
So to M, J, B, K and others from Sunday, to Katie and S tonight, to the guys from the Roxbury Half, thanks for shedding some light on why you all have been running together for years, and for letting me join the pack.