“Like strong communities, strong families make for stronger people.”
The Guardian, 26/12/2013 p.40.
Being part of a local running community has proved an important support to my own running achievements. Getting out with a fellow group of runners of all abilities creates a sense of community that DOES make you a stronger runner – three to six weeks of regular activity and you will see a difference.
However, like any family/community it needs reinforcement. It’s easy to forget when you get into a full training programme for whatever race or personal goal is your target, the value of the regular contact with others who are trying to achieve similar.
This time of year the perception that it’s hard to get out to complete the latest training run, or take the step to get fitter / more accomplished as a runner can be particularly pronounced. Interestingly, being part of a running club can be a double edged sword. Yes, it can bring a useful spur to get out there when perhaps you might not otherwise have taken the plunge…
…but, it can also act as an extra barrier to getting out there as the perception of what others may think of you and your perceived incapability, and/or the prospect of trotting whilst viewing the ever retreating backs of fellow runners reinforcing your own sense of running inadequacy/slowness. These can act as powerful dissuaders even for the most seasoned of runners. However powerful these may seem I think they are far outweighed by the benefits of running with others than the challenge perceptions they can present.
So where does this all come from? Partly from my own experience, for my first marathon, and most of my second (2009 and 2010 respectively) I trained alone and only realised the benefits of group training in March 2010 prior to the April 2010 Brighton Marathon. This came home in my last two club runs of 2013. The first was the Wednesday run in which we were promised a ‘fun’ session to round off another great year. However, as the image below shows, this is from a run route planner for whom:
FUN = HILLS
So, we were delighted by a local route that took in up and down the 50+ metre climb up Shepherds Hill, a 50+ metre shift up and down Muswell Hill, and a further double shift around the heights of Alexandra Palace (the third of the ‘three kings’). Whilst completing the final stretch back dodging the World Championship Darts fans it was the shout outs to other club members that kept me going, whilst also running with my colleagues. And honestly, would you deliberately plan a route for yourself that included that route? So let the community push you into uncharted territory – only from there will you become a stronger runner.
The second concerned the inaugural Tinsel Trot, a Christmas run built around a route that aimed to capture the features of other previously identified favourites. This was interesting as the focus of run requests was on traditional festive features – the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, the lights in Regent Street. Though the addition of an Espresso stop and some use of Hampstead Heath brought some interesting logistical challenges for this route planner. However, the eventual 19km route fitted the proposed bill once a start at Kings Cross was agreed.
With added Santa Hats, we gathered at Kings Cross pursued our warm up routine of squats, leg raises, and calf raises (until we felt the ‘burn’) to the clear bemusement of London travellers.
Running as a large group is difficult especially with such a pace range, but we did our best, varied the route accordingly to keep us together. Whilst the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square proved a little disappointing – not sure how we’ve upset the Norwegians (too much enjoyment of the Danish crime and political thrillers perhaps?) – being almost see-through from our Espresso stop. However, the impressive blue cock on the 4th plinth made up for this and we resumed our journey taking in the guards on horseback near Buckingham Palace, enjoying the run down the middle of the Mall, seeing Eros in a snow globe, and the lights (and queue outside Hamleys) on Regent Street. We even made a few photo memories for tourists as we went up Constitution Hill.
Moving through Regents Park so some of the party could enjoy the famous ‘cycling buns’ of the outer ring, then through Kentish Town to Parliament Hill we ascended our last climbs to swallow the view across London from the top of ‘Kite Hill’ as if ‘sun-bathed’ had been especially ordered. The final brutal climb after leaving the Heath seemed to confirm the FUN is HILLS adage, whilst the Mince Pie reward when we had finished was as tasty a mince pie I have tasted.
So what does this bring to the runner who has everything? The group run thing helps get you through the tough bits, spurs you on, and you appreciate that there are many others in exactly the same position as you. Perhaps really resistant to getting out for a run, but really wishing to do it at the same time particularly at this time of over excess and the over reliance upon the pyjama/onesie as clothing of choice.
If starting your training now for that target race some time in 2014 then the benefits will come, probably sometime in February or March on that tough mid-winter training run in the weather conditions you find really difficult…but with the company of a strong community of runners you get through. ‘Stronger running families make for a stronger runner’. Then come race day you’ll look back and see those benefits, so get in there now and realise them.
Thanks 2013, the year it was named, the year of the Nan Jog.