People run for all kinds of reasons. Some decide to get in better shape or realize a personal milestone. Others find motivation from that mouthy person in the office who says, “This is a bad idea for someone your age.” For whatever reason, we’re runners now. This group of endurance people seemed strange, and I didn’t know quite how to fit in. So I learned to comfortably run by myself; I got to know the deer and raccoon gangs in my neighborhood that stared as I ran by at 4 a.m. The solitude felt good and allowed me time to follow my breath, keep track of cadence and clear my head.
However, the lack of company made long runs even longer. I had so many questions about this new way of life (it’s not a “hobby”) and longed for camaraderie. I wanted to know if my gait needed work. Fellow runners would understand the drive pulling me out of bed before dawn on weekends just to run around in circles for a few hours. I wanted to talk to someone in person who could explain how to prevent both bleeding nipples and public urination charges. My family and lifelong friends were not marathon types. (This didn’t stop them from supporting me unconditionally, often with a travel mug of vodka coffee and loud cheers when I crossed the finish line.) Plus, I knew I was in trouble when I started high-fiving plants and trees after running alone.
I got online and looked up local running groups, still skeptical about the idea. I’m not a joiner. I progressed from a 13-minute mile down to 11 minutes in about 8 weeks, but I still didn’t think I could keep up with the speed demons in coordinating outfits. However, I found a group nearby and signed up. I told myself that if I didn’t experience a love connection, I could always go back to doing my own thing, just like high school. To my surprise, I found people a lot like me—fit, funny, goal-oriented and friendly once you get to know them.
At first, I did a lot of nodding and smiling—until mile 10, when I began to grunt and wonder what I’d look like as a corpse. There was no way I could carry on a conversation in the beginning with the pace they set, but I listened and learned. They taught me to pump my arms when running up a hill and shake them out when running down. They recommended “sexy” compression socks. Other fellow runners helped me learn the importance of pacing, buying a size up when purchasing running shoes and how rolling a frozen water bottle under my feet after long runs prevents debilitating aches and pains. I look forward to my weekend runs now, knowing there are all kinds of people, paces and distances to choose from.
If you’re in a lonely slump with your runs, look up a local running group and make some new friends. You can still be you. There’s no doubt that there are friendly runners who live right down the street, ready to go at 4 a.m. tomorrow morning. And their high-fives are way better than slapping a tree.