Group running

In my first year of running I ran entirely on my own. No running partners, just me and my iPod or Garmin gadget for company. I quite liked the solitude and opportunity to not have to worry about work or making conversation.

Around the middle of the year I started running more and more with other people. At first it was just my friend and colleague Mike, doing a circuit of Green Park and Hyde Park on a lunch break when I was visiting one of my London clients. There were a few races too, which are of course group events, although the conversation is rather muted when you don’t know anybody. It’s rarely been the case, in my experience at least, that you’ll say more than a few words to people next to you.

More recently, I’ve been a member of a running club, which has plenty more opportunities to talk with people, although the ‘*how long have you been running?*’ introductory gambit felt too first-year-at-University to use more than once or twice! It’s certainly quite nice on the dark evenings to have folk around who are happy to talk and share a few words.

There are a few observations I thought it’d be useful/interesting/fun to write about that strike me as unique to group running, as, well, they’ve not happened when I’ve been running on my own.

Street furniture – Running along roads at night has it’s own unique problems. Street furniture – posts, signs, bus shelters, advertising boards and the oh-so infamous bollards. Running into them at speed is not likely to be a huge amount of fun. But it’s one thing to trip over them when you’re running on your own. That’s likely to be your own fault. The trouble is when you’re in a group, and you’re not at the front, you don’t get to see what’s coming up. So it became *rapidly* obvious to me that when folk were waving their hands over something, or shouting something back (‘Trolley!’ being my favourite so far), there’s an obstacle up ahead. Bollards in particular pop up a lot, so the initially strange process of every runner signing with their hands the location of a bollard soon became second nature, to the extent I’ve found myself doing it on my own runs…

Car and van man – I generally avoid running on the busy roads. Given the running club has little choice to use some of the roads to get to certain places, it came as something of a surprise to me to find that cars and vans would frequently beep their horns at the running group. I’d thought it was just ‘one of those things’ – busy junctions mainly – but it soon became clear it was a bit more focused at *us* than that. Maybe just a fellow runner tooting their support? That just seemed silly. Of course it was something even more focused: the girls in the group, of which my running group has a large number. I’m a mid-30’s bloke with few redeeming features, who generally runs in the morning, or on my own around a quiet local park, so not really going to be on the receiving end of such things.

Kids – Ahhh the delightful future of our species. So innocent. Yes, the kids seem to like shouting silly comments at us as we run by. Perhaps because they’ve (not so quickly) worked out that we’re – by definition – running away, and therefore not likely to do much. Last night kids started to kick a football at us. In the dark. Not fun, but nobody seemed inclined to do much and just let them get bored with their antics. I started to console myself thinking they’d probably die young from too many chips and a sedentary lifestyle… But then they were outside. With a football. Damn.

Pedestrians – I’ll confess I’ve occasionally fumed at running groups as they steam past. There’s a feeling of being overrun and hassled when more than a few people barrel past you. I always try to make a point of thanking people when I realise they may be inconvenienced by what’s going on, unless they’re managing to take up an entire pavement and show no awareness of polite coughs or requests.

Scanning the comments so far you might get the impression that it’s dangerous and unenjoyable. Quite to the contrary, I enjoy it immensely. Here then are the *positives* I’ve gleaned so far:

Feeling of speed – When you’re running in a large group, it feels (to me) a lot faster. Perhaps it’s that it’s more street based than I’m used to, so it feels faster as you run past landmarks. Of course, roundabouts and traffic lights put a swift stop to these feelings, but a nice straight road with nobody else around is great fun to run along.

Company and Conversation – Not to be understated, simply having company and somebody to talk to as you run along is perhaps the main motivation to my joining a running club. I could see there would be days when I’d take a look at the weather and think better of going out for a run. I’m sure there still will be, but on balance it’ll be more appealing knowing I won’t be running on my own.

New Routes – It’s fair to say running in large cities on your own can severely limit the routes you can, or want, to take. Running with a group opens up possibilities that wouldn’t otherwise be open to a single runner.

Games – I hadn’t really taken in that running could actually involve ‘games’ of sorts. So far this has amounted to the ‘indian trail’ idea with the rear most runner sprinting to the front of the group, and repeating. It makes a long run through an otherwise dull section of road a lot more fun.

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