I was slow to join running groups. For one thing I didn't see the appeal of races and and therefore training with a group for a particular race. For another, I was uniquely self-motivated to run and I didn't feel like I necessarily needed a group to hold me accountable for runs. Even so, I joined a running group in fall 2014 to train for my first half marathon. I figured the structure and support would be good for me, and I could benefit from a bit of socializing.
I'll be honest though: I struggled my first time in a running group. I found it mentally exhausting to both push through my longest runs of my life and feign interest in others' personal lives for hours. (I'm sorry, I'm the worst, but I really had no interest in someone recounting their three-year-old's antics when I was overcoming my own mental and physical mountains). As I remember it, it was rough.
But I got through the training program and my first half marathon, and then I took some time off to train independently.
I've noticed that's very much my learning style: give me the information I need up front and then give me space to experiment and learn how to make that information work for me (I'm in the middle of this process right now for climbing). I took two years off from the running group all while pushing myself to run, crushing my previous PRs on two more half marathons, two 10 milers, and a 5 miler.
These accomplishments felt great, but I started to feel a twinge of - regret? melancholy? FOMO? - at all the races as people I recognized from the running groups overlooked me as a stranger, or when I saw all these cliques and friendly circles of runners who trained together, raced together, and celebrated together. I was missing out on the community.
When someone finally put a bug in my ear that I should sign up as a mentor for a running group, I was nervous. Would I be accepted? Would I be qualified? Would I be awkward? Oh, yeah, I'm definitely awkward, but even so here I am today, one of the mentors of the 10:00-11:00 minute/mile pace groups at Fleet Feet Carrboro/Durham in week 11 of 14 weeks of training!
There's something amazing about being a mentor instead of a participant. As a mentor I'm not running for myself: I'm running for others. I'm learning the route in advance, pointing other runners on the right direction, putting in my two cents on training tips, and running at a pace that works for the group. I'm double checking on runners if I see them struggle. I'm encouraging others up hills. I'm the quiet warm body keeping a steady pace. I'm the smile at the water cooler and the hype-woman for track days. I'm the goofball and the quiet watcher and the bright yellow shirt in the crowd. I'm nothing special, but the experience is special.
I like the feeling of running for others, even when my others are just as seasoned (and often more seasoned!) runners than me. I'm a poser and an imposter among all these great athletes - moms, grad students, former military members, (published!) writers and photographers, and so much more. And I'm lucky I get to run with them.
I'm not trying to be self-congratulatory with this. I still feel like an imposter most days, but just the perception (real or otherwise) that I am running for someone else can be a powerful motivator to run your heart out.