I didn’t become a runner to be a part of a group. I became a runner to gather my thoughts. I became a runner to come up with new ideas. I became a runner to hear the crunch of autumn leaves, to splash around in the mud puddles, to feel the slippery, melty goodness of a spring thaw underfoot. I became a runner to huff and puff to the highest peak and look out over the ocean and watch its tiny whitecaps glance off the frame of sand.
I became a runner to be alone.
When I moved to San Luis Obispo on California’s Central Coast five years ago, I didn’t have much in the ways of friends or a social outlet. But I had running, I had work and I had home—usually in that order. The new-to-me trails were enough to keep me happy and the generous smiles and waves of others on the track or trail seemed to tide me over as far as interaction went. Or at least I thought.
It wasn’t until a growing local business called Running Warehouse, whose model was to sell shoes online and have a slick return policy, started hosting monthly fun runs spring evenings after the time change that I noticed I felt the call to be in a group. At first I filled in the excuses: (blank) running shoe was going to be sponsoring or I like the course they have for this evening at (blank). And, of course, the runs always start/finish at a pub with a free beer ticket for all who participate—so there was that.
After my first group run, I was hooked. And it wasn’t about the shoes or the swag or the suds. It was, decidedly, about the people.
My people. I’d found them. This group, about thirty strong, all seemed to have the same story and the same thoughts. My story. My thoughts. The solitary years were a pile of dust in the corner and suddenly, in a group, I had something to share: Favorite hidden spots, least-favorite injuries, off-day adventures…gear recommends and, oh yeah, I chafe there too.
I didn’t want to wait until the first Tuesday of the month, and turns out, I couldn’t. Out of the fun runs, a small group formed and we’d run together between the sponsored gatherings.
One woman in particular and I would schedule several runs per week together. It was nice to meet at the trailhead, nod and stay mostly quiet on it. It was nice to have someone who ran my pace, critiqued my striking and showed me her secret to cleaning running clothes…so they didn’t smell so much like running clothes. It was nice to nod at the end of a big run to one another. The nod that says, “Are you thinking burrito too?”
Spring winds whipped into summer and soon the sun was setting again at 5. The pub runs were over and our little group disbanded. And I was back to running on my own, cutting through the fog of a coastal morning and the chill of the darkened evening.
Turns out, I didn’t like running on my own as much anymore, and neither did my body. Call it winter weight or call it lack of motivation to get out there as much on as a solo act, but my mile splits were slower, my workouts shorter and even though any run is a good run—my head didn’t seem quite as clear after.
So, I texted some members of the group, and one did show up at the trailhead. So we continued to run together, to form our own little group. And, with the birth of our son last spring, the two of us became three.
Can I say running in a group made me a better runner? Absolutely. More importantly, it has made me a better person.