Finding the right running group is kind of like dating: there are the ones that aren’t good enough for you, the ones that act like they’re too good for you, the ones that have questionable personal hygiene, and the ones that never call you back. The other problem is that I go into every interaction with impossibly high expectations—thanks a lot, Ryan Gosling—thus setting myself up for constant disappointment. So it’s really easy to get discouraged and convince myself that I’m better off going it alone.
My first foray into the world of group runs occurred a
couple of months ago. I saw the announcement on Twitter, and after waffling
about it for the better part of an afternoon, I finally resolved to suck it up
and go. Yes, it could be awkward. Yes, it could totally suck. But I would never
know if I didn’t try, right*? Plus, they were giving away free socks to all
attendees on that particular evening, and my inner George Costanza simply could
not pass up such an enticing freebie.
I knew within five minutes of showing up that things weren’t
going to work out, as the high volume of running skirts made it immediately
clear that this was a group for joggers,
not runners. I don’t mean to
sound like an insufferable asshole, but there is a difference. Out of
politeness, I slogged through four painfully slow miles, which I considered a
more-than-fair price for the complimentary socks. To go back to the dating
analogy, this experience was the equivalent of enduring 90 minutes of
agonizingly boring conversation with a horribly incompatible date for the sole
purpose of acquiring free food and cocktails. So yeah, it was pretty much a
Then there was the super-duper serious group. I met them at
the finish line of a local road race. Actually, I didn’t so much “meet” them as
I was “aggressively approached” by them. I had barely caught my breath when
they cornered me by the post-race refreshment table and launched into a
terrifyingly enthusiastic pitch for their group. Although I had a sneaking suspicion that they were all addicted to crack-spiked espresso, they seemed cool—and
definitely much more legit than the jogging operation—so when I got home, I
looked them up online and sent them a message expressing my interest. Not only
did it take them almost a week to respond to my inquiry, but when they finally
did, it was basically a “sit tight, we’ll get back to you” kind of message. So,
I sat tight. And they never got back to me. They were basically the Guy With an
Inflated Sense of Self-Importance Who Feigns Interest but Then Blows You Off
Because Hey, a Dude Bro’s Gotta Keep His Options Open.
But, as the old saying goes, sometimes you have to kiss a
lot of Jon
Gosselins before you find your Hank
Baskett. So I pressed on, clinging tight to the hope of one day finding the
group with which I was truly meant to run. Then one day, by complete
happenstance, I spotted a crowd of runners circling the track near my
apartment. At first glance, I thought maybe it was the high school track team.
But as I got closer, I realized that a few of the runners had gray hair and
mustaches. So either they had been held back for the last 45 years or this was,
in fact, an adult running group.
I didn’t have the guts to crash their workout right then and
there—plus, I didn’t want to seem too forward. Instead, I checked my watch and
made a mental note of the time. When I got home, I made a beeline for my laptop
and proceeded to Internet-stalk the crap out of them. My detective work turned
up a number of promising leads. Apparently, they were a local group open to
anyone, and they met every Tuesday evening at the local high school track. I
resolved to attend their next workout—no excuses.
Of course, by the time Tuesday came around, I had a million
excuses in my back pocket. I wasn’t in track shape. I didn’t want to push
myself to the point of injury. The cookie I had at lunch would give me a side
ache. I really needed to start my taxes. I was still too emotionally compromised
from the season finale of Orange is the New Black. Obviously, I’d been jaded by my previous experiences. It was akin to
having a couple of bad dates in a row and entering all subsequent dating
experiences with the expectation of getting a detailed lecture on the evils of
gluten and a guided tour of a Facebook album dedicated exclusively to gym
Finally, I settled on a compromise: I would start running
toward the track, and if I didn’t like the vibe I got, I’d bail. Simple as
that. When I got there, I immediately spotted a woman in normal** running
attire stretching by the fence. I drew in a deep breath and approached her.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you know if there’s a running group that meets here?”
“Yep,” she responded with a smile. “The workout starts at
six, so everyone just kind of warms up until then.”
“Great!” I responded.
Now, I knew the worst possible thing I could do was jump in
and hijack the whole production. If I wanted to make friends, I had to play it
cool and keep my track skills on the DL. So, I nodded my head and bit my tongue
as one of the other runners explained the workout, gave me some pointers on
pacing, and made sure I knew that a “400” was track-speak for one lap. On tap
for that night: 3x400, 4x800, 3x400.
Admittedly, I’m a bit rusty when it comes to speed work, so
I was more than willing to start out conservatively. As we took off on our
first 400, I slipped in mid-pack. This also allowed me to assess the caliber of
the other runners. When I realized that I was actually in the company of some
pretty legit athletes, I felt comfortable enough to move up and run with the
I felt like we were flying. For real, you guys—I thought we
were freaking sprinting. Our first lap was about a 75, which is fast by most
standards. But considering that I used to be able to run four laps at that
pace, it’s actually not that impressive. In fact, I found the disparity between
my perceived effort and my actual speed to be quite hilarious—so hilarious that
I couldn’t help but chuckle out loud. This made me look insane, and I stopped
Apparently, though, my five-second fit of laughter was
enough to invite conversation from one of the other runners—a very fit-looking
woman who appeared to be around the same age as me. “Hey, you’re really fast,”
she said. “Did you run in college?”
Oh, God. I’d given myself away.
“Yes,” I replied quietly, hoping no one else had heard.
“Oh, cool. So did I,” she said. “What events did you do?”
This initiated a friendly exchange of collegiate running
bios and wistful memories of bygone track days. My new friend and I ran
together for the remainder of the workout, and at the end of the evening, she
asked if I was going to come back again the following week.
“Yes, I think I will,” I said, trying not to sound too
“Good,” she replied with a smile. “See you then!”
With my “second date” secured, I couldn’t help but grin all
the way through my cool-down jog. Now, if only I had something to wear!
**No running skirt