One of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our place among them. – Virginia Woolf
The greatness of a craft consists firstly in how it brings comradeship to men. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Saturday mornings are hard. I have to rise early enough to get moving and ready for a long run. A 7:30 start this morning meant I needed to be up at my usual 5:30 to stretch, eat, dress and generally pull myself together. I have to mentally prepare for a long run as well, not always the easiest thing to do. At least the temperature was higher than it’s been the last couple of months, so I didn’t have to pour myself into three layers of clothes only to know that my toes and fingers were still going to be frozen.
Mentally, I wasn’t in the best of places either. Last week, I bailed on our Saturday run after two miles. By that point in a run, I expect to be into a rhythm where my breathing is easy, my body is working as an integrated unit and I’m beginning to appreciate – and hopefully enjoy – the run. But last week, that didn’t happen. Nothing was working – my legs still felt like lead, my toes were frozen, my breathing was labored and I had eight miles to go. I was having trouble holding the pace my usual running partner was setting. I pulled off while I could, but I felt like a complete and total failure. Even though I did a long run the next day by myself, it wasn’t the same. I started to question both my ability and my motivation.
But this morning, I was ready to go. So what changed? I think it was that I remembered why I train with a group. It’s not only that I wouldn’t keep to the schedule if I were trying to train along, but it is also that I enjoy having other people around me who are trying to do the same thing. More importantly, I need to have them to motivate and challenge me.
I began to realize the effect of fellowship on Tuesday night at the track workout. It was the first real group run on the track – our previous workouts have been loops and a time trial that seem to become much more individual efforts than are the track workouts. I have to see and been seen at the track. I get to “take my place” among others when I work out with the group.
So I was looking forward to this morning. The store was chaotic, with 3 different groups running different distances this morning. It was a step-back week, so I had planned to run the shorter distance (remembering Lynda’s observations on overtraining) but Jill was doing an extra mile. I committed to the longer distance, and off we went. We had four people together for the first mile or so, but when we made the first turn off Timonium I noticed a woman trailing behind us. We also picked up a man from another group who had made a wrong turn. Mike turned out to have all sorts of stories about marathons, ultra-marathons, mountain climbing and biking. At some point, he and I dropped back to pick up the other woman, and let Jill and her group go on. Mike turned off at Charmouth to complete the longer run, while Chrissy and I went on to the store.
What was the result of running with a group? First, the ipod was never turned on. There was too much interesting conversation to isolate myself with my music. Second, I remembered I was part of a fellowship of other people. Finally, I made a couple of new friends, one of whom I know I will see regularly at both long runs and track workouts. Oh, and we made decent time seemingly effortlessly. The hills were the hills, but overall, it was just a beautiful day in the company of pleasant people who were doing the same thing I was doing. The objective of enjoying my running was met. The objective of meeting a goal was met.
I also discovered a new goal of running. It is the goal of growing up as a runner. I’ve been thinking about Mike, and of Jean, another mature distance runner I met last year under similar circumstances. I want what they have. They make running a pleasure for the people with whom they are running. They also make it pleasurable even while challenging that person. There was no way that I was not going to keep up with Mike today, just like I was intent on keeping up with Jean last year. They weren’t pushing me to keep track paces, but they were upping my long run pace ever so slightly, and keeping me there. And they both did it with a smile. They have what I want. I want to be part of that fellowship, and to take my place among that fellowship.
If awareness preceeds action, maybe this is the year that I start to grow up all over again.