Monday, March 24, 2014

My life as a (running) groupie

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 disaster.

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 selfies.

 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 leaders.

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 immediately.

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 excited.

“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


  1. I'm totally the espresso-high chick who aggressively approaches people after races. But at least I follow through and try to get them to come to practice :)

  2. I identify with all of this on so many levels. First, running skirts are ridiculous. Second, just showing up to a running group doesn't mean you'll instantly make friends with everyone because you're all runners and runners should all be nice to each other and be nice (right?). Went to so many running groups looking for the right mix of friendliness and similar-paced ladies. Third, running skirts. Again.