By DAN HOLMES
As he explained his resignation from the Friars Club of Beverly Hills, Groucho Marx famously said: “I don’t wish to belong to any group that would have me as a member!”
But what if the group in question is one you are starting?
I’ve been grappling with that for a few weeks now, as I recently began my first running group. I find that I can’t quit, and I don’t want to, even though it’s something that’s out of character for me.
Until earlier this year I had always been a solitary runner, but then I decided to make a concerted effort to run with others, at least once a week or so. I joined a running group that met at the local coffee shop, a central meeting place in Traverse City. I hoped to meet people, learn some things about running, and possibly gain some motivation. All of those things happened, but it’s different when you’re the group leader, as I’m finding out now.
One of the main purposes of a running group is to serve as support for the runners, a sort of peer pressure. You want to feel as if the group needs you, when really it’s you that needs the group. Without the individual runners, there is no group. As a part of a running group, that peer pressure can be a wonderful thing as it morphs into a camaraderie that leads you to never want to miss a group run. You look forward to it, you bond with your fellow runners, and you feel like you’re part of something larger than yourself.
But when you’re the leader of the running group, it’s different. Besides camaraderie and a sense of belonging, there’s also a little anxiety. Will anyone show up? Is the group benefiting and growing? Are the members being challenged enough? Too much? Should I give out free socks?
All of those things have crossed my mind in my short tenure as a running group leader. But I’ve also realized that starting a running group can be fun and rewarding. I have, for the most part, been a selfish runner for many years. I run where and when I want, as fast or as slow as I want, and I enter races when I want. Even at the running group I belong to, I arrive with a running strategy, I work through race scenarios and run fairly hard almost all the time. I socialize a bit, but my participation has mostly been to help myself prepare for race conditions. But I noticed that many runners belonged to the group for other reasons, such as to run alongside their friends or encourage others. That’s when I decided that I wanted to start a group of my own.
I have noticed over the years that many of my friends have been interested in my running, and even expressed an interest in running themselves, but they often seemed to have difficulty getting “over the hump.” They would run once or twice, maybe even enter a 5K, but then their running would peter out. Poof! They were gone.
It seems to me that if we want running to grow in popularity, if we want our children to be fit and active, we need more people to become runners. It doesn’t matter how seriously they take their running, but we need more people on the trails and on the streets. That’s why I started a running group, to draw in runners who are just getting started or who have struggled to stay with their running. I have been able to attract a handful of runners in the few weeks of my group (we’re not busting at the seams, by any means) and most of them are beginners. It’s been fun, but I’ve also noticed some things about beginner runners and their approach to a running group.
Three things I’ve noticed from the new runners in my group:
New runners are enthusiastic.
The enthusiasm is great – it can be infectious. Advanced runners can get into a rut or become too focused on PR’s and race training. We can lose the purpose of running in the first place – to enrich our lives.
Beginner runners feel like they’re slowing us down.
Every new runner in my group has expressed that they feel like they are holding the “faster runners” back. As running group leaders or more advanced runners, we need to be sure to explain to the newbies how the running group is structured. Some groups may be more advanced in nature, others may be designed solely for social opps, and others might be to train for a specific race, but regardless, that should be made clear. I make sure to explain that my vision for the group is to help newer runners get more comfortable running with others and to help them avoid the temptation to stop running or to lose motivation. That doesn’t mean faster runners can’t run with my group, but I want the new runners to know I will be running with them, stride for stride during our group. If others want to go faster, hopefully as the group gets larger, we’ll have clusters within the group so no one has to run alone.
New runners want to feel like they belong.
We all do, right? Of course we do. It’s out duty, as runners with some miles under our feet, to usher in new runners when we can. A smile, a word of encouragement, maybe running a mile or two at a slower pace just to help a slower runner along – all of those things help grow our running community.
Are you a new runner looking for a running group or wondering what to expect from an established group? Be sure to ask the running group leader or leaders about the group, and ask other runners for information on groups in your area.
If you’re a runner who wants to start a group, I only have very simple advice for you (I’ve only been leading a group for a short while myself): suit up, show up, and slow up. Being there every week is important, of course. But once you’re there, don’t make the group you’ve started about you and what you are looking to get out of running. Give something to someone else. Someday they may pass you, which is not that bad after all.
Dan Holmes is a freelance writer and content marketer, and owner of Boone Digital, a web development and content company. He’s ran 5 marathons and several smaller races. He’s faster than some, slower than others, but mostly he loves the feeling and freedom that running brings to his life. He lives with his two daughters in Northern Michigan.
Do you run with a running group? What do you like most about doing this? What tips would you offer those interested in starting a group, or looking to join one?