Running alone is hard. Choosing to run with others is hard, too, but better. In this way, running is a little bit like life.
This is even more true as I elbow up to the bar of 50. Doing the hard things becomes so much less of a chore and so much more an experience when I do them in the company of others, in the context of relationship.
Recently, before, during and after a 7k race in Cottleville, Missouri, I was reminded again of just how much I have gotten from my marathon training with Fleet Feet, a running community (and yes, a national chain). More than just a store, Fleet Feet offers professional training and coaching, as well as quality advice on stretching, injury prevention and nutrition. Although those aspects are deeply valued, what I really get from them is true camaraderie, friendship, encouragement and support. And Fun! Did I mention I’M. HAVING. SO. MUCH. FUN!?
I have always been a bit of a loner when it comes to running. I like to put my earbuds in and lose myself in a good book. It’s my “me” time and, always the multi-tasker, I simultaneously indulge my love of fiction and my fondness for running.
In this way, I’ve done most of my distance training alone.
But I wasn’t getting any better as a runner. I figured I must be doing something wrong and so I signed up to train with Fleet Feet for the 2016 Go! St. Louis Marathon.
Turns out I was doing more than “something” wrong – I was doing most everything wrong. But what I found truly missing had very little to do with the science, athleticism, endurance and mechanics of running. It was the people and the camaraderie that were missing from my training. It was the fun that was missing.
Through Fleet Feet, I’ve discovered this essential ingredient to running – this flavoring that enhances my training program the same way a good spice enhances a recipe.
There is something so powerful, so motivating about:
– The reality of screaming out loud when you did not know you had a chafing issue until the shower water revealed it to you.
– The masochistic pain delivered by a foam roller.
– The horror your toes will inflict upon a nail technician when you go for a much needed pedicure.
– A shared passionate hatred for hills.
– A passionate love for Aquaphore.
– Strassburg socks (and their torturous appearance).
– The fact that your running shoes are the most expensive item in your wardrobe.
– to pass up my car one more time.
– to push through to the end even if I have to slow down to do so.
– to slow down along with me.
Running with others means that at the end of a run, there are people applauding my effort and my finish time, sharing their finish time with me, and celebrating our accomplishment. There’s much to be gained from running with others.
At that 7k race, I experienced all of these things and more. After the race, I enjoyed the company of other runners at a post-race social gathering. We talked about challenges with finding time to train in schedules loaded with family and work obligations. I learned about run cruises and group running vacations — things that must sound like an oxymoron to those not initiated into the addictive (obsessive) world of running but which sound to me like a bit of heaven.
I listened to them talk about previous training seasons they had done together — seasons that had been the fertile ground that forged the friendships I had observed during my training with Fleet Feet and of which I was now a part.
All of it made me look forward to the next weekend’s 19 miles. Because it was a challenge. Because I had my people to run. Because it would fun, again.
Editor’s note: You can check out Fleet Feet or do a Google search for marathon training groups. There are many, some affiliated with brick and mortar stores, others like LA Leggers and LA Road Runners in Los Angeles, that are just training and support. Meet-Ups is another great way to find running, hiking and walking groups in your area. I’m supplying one link to a running vacation site — I make no promises, haven’t tried them, but you can see what they’re about and if they are for you. And finally, for more tips on finding your groove running with others, read Jen Ven Allen’s 5 Surprising Ways to make Running Feel Easier, posted on Fleet Feet’s blog.