When I started running in 2013, a runner friend of mine from high school messaged me and said, “you’re going to meet the most amazing friends running!” What friends? I thought. Who are these people you meet running? I ran alone and didn’t know too many other people in my town that ran. How on earth do you meet people running? Yank their headphones out as you pass by and strike up a conversation? Uh, no. I didn’t run to meet people. I ran to get in shape, to let out stress, to be by myself. I wasn’t going to meet people running down the street.
And I didn’t. For a whole year.
Then in the spring of 2014, I decided to try some trail running. I wanted to get to know Bent Creek better, a great running and biking forest just south of town. I wasn’t afraid of running the trails by myself, but I figured I should go with some people who knew where they were going so I could learn a few routes. I saw on Facebook that a local running store, Jus’ Running, had group trail runs on Wednesday evenings and all were welcome. I showed up and quickly became a regular. We’d run loops of around 7 or 8 miles and I’d be sore for days after. People of all paces would come and the faster runners would wait at trail intersections so no one was left behind. I loved it and was getting stronger and fitter.
Those Wednesday nights became my thing. I was happy meeting people who were interested in the same thing I was into. I was never the fastest and usually not the slowest but I was consistent. When I got out of breath climbing a big hill, I didn’t stop because there were people waiting for me at the top and people behind me who weren’t quitting. I gave more to those runs than I would have given on my own. What started out as a whim became a habit which became a part of who I was. I was part of a tribe.
It was through those trail runs (which are no longer organized through Jus’ Running) that I met Mandy who worked at the running store. She kept trying to convince me to go to the track on Tuesday evenings. Running in the evenings is a challenge since it’s family time and I didn’t want to trade the trail for the track, so I kept saying no. Running around a flat oval over and over again did not sound appealing, especially compared to the woods. But soon the summer days grew to an end and the light faded on our evening trail runs. It was not until the following spring after I was asked to join the Jus’ Running Racing Team, that I decided to try the track.
It completely defies logic that people actually enjoy running track if you’ve never done it before. But yet dozens and dozens of people show up each Tuesday to endure lung-popping, ego-bruising, leg-splintering workouts. Maybe runners are just masochists, plain and simple. Or maybe there’s something more to it.
Running hard is, well, hard and it’s better to suffer with others than suffer alone. I know that I would not be out there pushing myself this much if I didn’t feel the support and friendly competition of the group. I run better when I have someone to chase and I feel a sense of accountability when I put myself out there and others are watching, even though they really don’t care what my pace is.
My running friends know what it feels like to PR and they also know what it’s like to be burned out or injured. It is great to be able to completely geek out about running with people who are as obsessed as I am. I am inspired by those who run way faster and/or way longer than I do. We celebrate each other’s achievements and complain about our aches and pains together.
Thinking about the runners I know, most of us are a little on the introverted side. To spend that much time alone running, you have to be. Even if you never run alone, you can’t talk much while running faster than a jog, so you need to be okay with being alone in your head sometimes. But when we run as a group, we instantly have something to bond over, even if it is something as seemingly awful as a tortuous track workout.
We become better runners not only because of the workout, but because of each other.