Community: What does it mean to be a runner buddy or have a running group?

Run feeling

Running came to me when I was young, and I followed it through high school. When I left high school, I forgot to keep running. The momentum of running escaped down the rabbit-hole of university studies, dating, and other ways I forgot to put my own self-care first.

And, now, it’s back. It’s not a magical lost sock I find behind the dryer on the day before moving out of an apartment. Running isn’t that lost sock. It’s more of a well-worn recipe for a meal that fills me up. And I had to seek out the recipe again, find it in the cupboard. And the social aspect of running is in that recipe. It’s the broth, the bones in the soup.

As a runner, I always enjoyed both the solitary and social aspect of running. I’ve had various running groups since I was in a high school cross-country running team.

Many may argue that running can be a very solitary thing. You don’t call a buddy for help: hey, I’ve got this running game this weekend and we need a sixth player to play defense. You in? Oh, and bring your own gear.

Yep. It’s solitary. Sometimes, it’s just you waking up and putting on those shoes to go out at 5 a.m. (or some other forsaken time) before you get ready for work or home life.

But, running is also social. We humans are social animals at the same time that we’re (still talking in the broad sense of humans) vicious animals. We crave community at the same time that we crave competition. We want someone to run with and we want someone to run against.

My favourite running group was a group of women that I worked with in my early twenties. It was fall 2000. I lived in Victoria, BC, and was working at Fort St. Jubilee Pharmasave as one of several university students who worked the mid-day to evening shift and weekends. One of the women that worked there full-time invited me to join her and two of her friends in a running group. We met at a pre-determined time at a corner of Rockland Street in the Uplands area. I didn’t have a cell phone at the time, and it wouldn’t have mattered. We had a code: no one calls in a no-show. You show up.

We showed up for a long time. Then, suddenly one woman stopped coming. And, then another couldn’t make it. And soon it fell apart. And, my running practice continued for awhile but something unraveled in my running mojo when the group dissolved.

I can still feel that grounded feeling of standing on that corner in Victoria waiting for my running buddies. Kind of like an exuberant eight-year-old kid in a grocery store pointing out their friends to their mother. Ma, my friends are over there in the pasta aisle! Look Ma, my friends are here! Can we go say hi? Can we? Can we? Then, I’d see the girls coming down the street to the corner in their running shoes and I was just so happy. I had people and they were showing up for me. My people! My people!

When I was trying to think of what to write about for this post…I stalled out. I wasn’t ready to write about training plans. Ground-truth here: Hell, I’m just working on consistency and showing up right now. Not bailing. So, training plans….yeah…I’m getting there. Just not today. (Shh, don’t judge me, I’m a planner/list-maker…give me time. I’ll get there….in an Excel spreadsheet most likely with colour markers to highlight dates.)

In my stall-out phase (aka staring at the computer and going to make another coffee), I came back to the last post of my favourite run. Feelings. What does it feel like to have a great run? Bloody fantastic. And, then I thought: aha. AHA, in all caps kind of feeling.

Feelings again. What does it feel like to seek and create community around running?

To be honest, creating community can be a scary thing. It’s not something for everyone. You make yourself vulnerable. You go to a new group. You start a new hobby, or return to a previously abandoned one. You agree to your co-worker’s invite to a running group. You open yourself (and your ego) up for inspection. My big thing about community is simple: don’t be an asshole, and imagine that you’re the turtle in a running group. Imagine that you are the slowest runner and treat everyone the way that you’d want to be treated. Simple rule, right?

The parts of community that I love around running (aside from beer or coffee after a run) are getting to know people in a different way. It’s also a way to push myself to go beyond my safe zone, my solo running pace. It’s scary. But it’s worth it.

For me, community meant that I knew I was safe to say hey, guys, I need to walk and someone would offer to walk with me. I wouldn’t be left behind. There was a code: ask before you leave the turtle alone. Do you want something to run with you? This is a different question than the other one — do you mind if I run ahead? I’ve been the turtle lately. And, usually, if asked, I’m good to run by myself while my hare-friends run up ahead. We even had this conversation or a variation of it at the start of the last Broken Goat (the 12km portion) last year.

Even as I share my own “rules” about community, I also acknowledge that there are different absolutes that other runners may have. Some runners may only run with people of the same pace. Some runners only run with people who run trail. Some runners are gym runners. Some are road. Long distance. Track. Some people don’t want to run with others because it’s their zen time, their solo time to space out and log the miles. And, there are closet runners. These are the runners who are afraid of telling anyone that they are a runner because who knows if there is an asshole at the table. “You ran a 50-minute 5 k? That’s not running.” Yep, pretty sure if someone has running shoes on and they are walk-running their way around their block…they’re a runner. (Again, simple rule I wrote about earlier.) So, knowing that we’re are all so different – I also become a turtle with a tough heart. I know that I’m not for all running groups or people (just like not all groups or people are for me). When I meet a new group or potential running buddy, I tell myself: this is just a first date. No biggie if it doesn’t work out. I still have myself to run with.

So, without planning this…I had a new ‘first date’ recently. Met a running girl this morning for a get-to-know-each-other run date. When running, I call all women “girls” — it’s my thing. Don’t get offended.

It was a good run date. We talked about our future races. She stopped near the end of the run where you can see the bridge going into town over the Columbia River. The trees. The sun. The snow on its best photo behaviour — shiny sparkly. The view. For that moment, the -16 C numbing cold on my legs was on pause. “Do you mind if we stop here for a bit?” Nope. She took out her phone, and me mine. Phones back in pockets, we turned onto the last stretch of the trail. She looked at her watch. “Do you mind if we speed up? I have to get changed before I head out.”

I nodded in agreement, picking up the pace. A kicker! I love finishing a run with a kicker, that last push of energy.

silvershirtportraitThanks for reading.

Please comment below and share some of your stories about running groups or partners. What are your absolutes, or rules, for a good running group or partnership? Do you have a partner to run with? Or, do you prefer running solo?

Please share. Xo

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