Lessons from the Back of the Pack

A walkway in Riverside Park in Manhattan, New ...

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So I mentioned yesterday that I had just gotten home from my very first blogger meet-up event!  Yes, in four years of blogging, this was the first time I’d met some of my fellow running bloggers in person.  The whole thing was organized by Steve from NYCRUNS with the help of JackRabbit.  I was invited after weaseling my way onto Steve’s radar, and I was pretty excited (and nervous) to share a run, some pizza, and some beer with people with interests similar to mine.  The run was going to be 4-5 miles and led by Jonathan who, in spite of my having never met him, I knew was pre-tty fast.  But being accustomed to group runs with my LUNAChix teammates, where we all pretty much the same speed and have a good time chatting, I figured this would be a mostly social event at which I wouldn’t have to worry much about my pace compared to that of others.


I ran to the meet-up location, so by the time I’d gotten there, I’d already put a little over 3 miles on my Garmin (I had figured I wanted to do 7 or 8, and this seemed like the best way to do it).  As I met the other bloggers, I felt immediately intimidated.  You know how you can kind of just tell when you’re in a group full of people who are faster than you?  Yeah, that’s the feeling I had.  And once we started running, I realized just how much faster everyone was.  Needless to say, I fell behind pretty quickly.  It was fine, I was Riverside Park, an area that I knew well, I was keeping a pace that I was pleased with, and even though it was pretty muggy, it was a nice evening for a run.  I mean, no, I wasn’t really getting to know anyone better (except maybe myself) but I felt all right about it.

It really only got sort of awkward when people started backtracking in order to run with me–that’s when I started to feel some pressure.  No one said anything about being disappointed by my pace, and everyone was very nice and gracious about keeping me company, but the attention just made me feel…I don’t know, guilty? embarrassed? self-conscious?

I don’t really think of myself as fast or slow, I really just sort of think of things in relation to the paces I’ve previously kept.  Sure, I can recognize when I envy someone else’s speed, but because I’m not that competitive, my main concern has always just been self-improvement.  And even though people always say, “Oh, don’t worry, you’re not going to come in last!” when you tell them you’re nervous about a race, the fact of the matter is that there’s always a possibility that you will actually come in last, because that’s just how the statistics work themselves out: you run enough miles with enough people, eventually you’re going to be the slowest of the group.

I think, though, that the reason why the run got kind of uncomfortable for me once I got company was because that’s what changed the run from being something that was about me to something that was about others’ impression of me, and because I didn’t know these people, I was nervous about the sort of impression I’d make.  I find that the way I feel about my body kind of functions in the same way: if I’m in a situation where I think people are going to be judging me based on how I look, I am more likely to judge myself negatively, assuming that they will be judging me negatively and I don’t really have permission to feel better.  As the “slow” runner, I sort of assumed everyone was going to be making similarly negative judgments about me, and dismissing me out of hand as a less serious (and therefore less deserving of being there) runner.

Once I was joined by other runners, it was hard for me to keep my attitude positive.  I felt strangely defeated, and a big part of me wanted to just give up and tell people I’d walk the rest of the way by myself.  But I didn’t.  Instead I reminded myself that there was no difference between the runner I was at that time and the runner I was when I’d first started out on my own.  Front of the pack, back of the pack, or independent of the pack, you run your own race.  The only thing that should matter is how you feel, and (if you care) how you’re doing in relation to how you’ve done before.  As soon as I was able to get that into my head, I felt fine.  And overall, my pace was one of the faster runs I’ve had in a while.

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  1. Aww I’m sorry you were feeling that way on the run!! I definitely wasn’t judging you or even giving a second thought to our pace. I just wanted it to actually be a social run and get to meet some new people, and I’m glad I did! You should in that when someone slows down a bit to run with you, it doesn’t inconvenience them, they probably genuinely want to run with you! At least that’s how I feel. Hope to see you again soon!

    1. Thanks, Amy! You are so right to point out that when someone slows down to run with you, they’re *choosing* to do it–I’ve done that on group runs, and I’ve never regretted not running faster or felt like I was inconvenienced by it, instead it’s a lot of fun to get to know someone and have time to chat or even just have some company. I enjoyed running with you, so I hope my post didn’t make it seem otherwise 🙂 I also hope we can meet up again soon!

  2. I really enjoyed meeting people, and I hope you did too, despite the pace of the “social run”. I suppose it is only natural that the pace for each runner is so different. As one of the folks who turned back to make sure no one got lost, I can say that my only goal was to be nice and inclusive. Anyway, pace has nothing to do with being a great person, and as you wrote, our real goals should be focused on bettering ourselves and not comparing ourselves to others. I look forward to be a regular reader.

    1. I did really enjoy meeting people–it was great to see more of the running/blogging community since it’s often easy to fall into the habit of running with the same people, or just alone. And as you said in your post about the meet-up, reading these blogs will now have a deeper significance since I can put names to faces.

      I appreciated you being nice and inclusive, and I also appreciated hearing about your wife kicking ass 🙂 Hopefully we can do something like this again soon.

  3. “Front of the pack, back of the pack, or independent of the pack, you run your own race.”

    Great post. I’ll definitely be repeating that thought this weekend!

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