There’s a part of me that’s terrified of other runners.
When I started, I was concerned I was too slow and would be left behind. As I got stronger, it became meditative alone time. I liked doing it alone, and it’s been that way for about ten years.
But lately, Run For The Toad training has been challenging—the long runs have been a grind, and weekday runs have become another item on my to-do list.
It’s becoming clear that running and I have been together for too long. We need to spice up our relationship.
So last week, I decided it was time to see other people.
It was time to try a running group.
Picking a running group isn’t easy. Many seem intense, elite, and so tight-knit it’s hard to imagine wedging yourself in there. Many run really fast, really early, or don’t seem to be interested in recruiting.
With all of this in mind, I decided to check out the Sketchy Run Club, a new local group that had popped up on my Instagram feed.
They looked like a good fit: runners and walkers who hit a local brewery or café after each run and didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously. They called themselves an “anti-workout run club”—my kinda people.
I decided to the meet the SRC for their Sketchy Saturday 3k BUT still needed to do 12 km sometime that day for training. The only solution was to run TO the running group. Run WITH the running group. Run home.
The week leading up to Saturday I wrestled with some nerves. Would I be able to keep up? Would I get along with people? What was I supposed to wear?!
When Saturday morning finally came, I skipped the snooze button for once. I was excited, even if I wasn’t fully awake.
The goal was to be out the door by 7:30 to give myself an hour to cover the 5.3km to the café meeting point because:
A) I live on an escarpment and had to find my way DOWN it to the meeting point. I wasn’t sure of the way on foot, I just knew there had to be one.
B) I wanted to arrive early and cool down to make sure I hadn’t sweat my eyebrows clean off. I wasn’t keen on meeting my new running crew, bald-faced and gleaming like a hardboiled egg.
In reality, I made it out the door at 7:45, which meant I had 45 minutes. Now sure, I could do a 5K in that time, but that’s without factoring in stopping at traffic lights, potentially getting lost, or my need for sweet sweet cool-down time. (See: above.)
As I headed out, it almost felt like a road race, running with a ticking clock in the back of my mind. It had that same magnetic feel of every cell being pulled forward with no other option but to keep going. I considered messaging the group to tell them I was on my way—don’t leave without me!—but knew the only option was to push and get there no matter what.
The worst case scenario was that they left before I got there, I grabbed a scone and a coffee, disappearing before anyone knew that I had tried a new thing and had failed at it.
The sun was out and I had to stop to struggle out of my sweatshirt, costing me precious seconds. The heat up was beginning, which meant the sweat was starting.
Google tried to tell me to run down a narrow two-lane road with no sidewalk. I watched cars whipping around the curve in the road with speed to splatter. There had to be another way down the escarpment. That’s when I saw The Stairs.
They were a rusting metal goliath that embodied the dangerous feeling of losing in a real-life game of Snakes and Ladders. The clock was still ticking in the back of my head like a “tsking” run coach. Down I went.
I had visions of slipping and falling or my foot going through a rusty step. I hobbled down each one, aware that my caution was costing me precious seconds. The closer to the bottom I was, the more determined I got.
At the foot of the escarpment I had fifteen minutes to make it to the meet up point. Google was saying it was 20 minutes walking distance—I didn’t have any choice but to run. At the same time, the sweat was beginning to pour. The brows were in officially in danger of being compromised and so was my first impression. (Did you know distance runners sweat more? And sweat more quickly?)
I set off running through the empty streets of a sleeping city.
I made it to the café meeting point with three minutes to spare, predictably sweaty and red in the face. Ah well, I thought, sweating’s what I came here to do. I felt a small surge of victory and plunged myself into the fray of new faces.
The Sketchy Runners were already gathered outside. Some had coffees, some had running strollers, some had both. (Shout out to the parents keeping up their routines. All the coffee is yours.)
I was greeted by Laura, one of organizers, who introduced me to the other leader of the group with a: “Rachelle! Riley’s here!” My Instagram PRECEDED ME.
Rachelle went in for a hug immediately. I did a panicked half one-arm embrace with a double-time pullback (a gold medal move in the Awkward Olympics)—
“Ahh sorry, I’m sweaty! I ran here!”
“You ran here?!”
I realized in retrospect that my elegant solution was also probably the mind mechanics of a distance-running maniac.
While we waited for the run to kick off, a slow knot of worry began to tangle in me as I looked at the other runners.
Everyone looked fit AF and 100% glowing in their athletic gear—like Lululemon models. All of their adorable babies had cool names. For a brief second, I felt like I had walked into a trap. Had I run all the way just to get left in the dust?
A woman named Sarah assured me that the group didn’t do anything faster than a 6:00/km.
Rachelle explained the route. I tried to make as many mental notes as I could in case I was in the back.
We set off in a pack. The morning was clean and new. The sun was shining. I was officially running with a running group and I hadn’t even spontaneously combusted or anything.
From the way she had broken down pace, I guessed Sarah was another runner with race experience. She and I actually talked quite a bit as the group took off through the streets, her pushing a running stroller with a whole other human being inside of it (without struggle), and me chugging alongside.
Long story short: I kept pace with the group. I didn’t get left in the dust the way I was nervous about, not only because everyone was so kind and stuck together but, in fact, for most of the run, I had the privilege of being close to the front of the pack. ME. ME, who just minutes before had compared my running style to a crockpot to a group of strangers—(low and slow, baby)!
I felt a sense of calm and community settle in my chest. This was good. I liked it. I maybe even loved it a little.
Running and I were going to be okay.
Afterward, members stuck around for coffee and treats. We cooled down and chatted. When we all finally went our separate ways I bought a (delicious) maple and oat scone to shovel in my face as I began my run-walk home and trudged UP the stairs.
The moral of the story here is believe in yourself, other people are pretty great, and it’s worth waiting until you find the run club that’s right for you—even if feels a little sketchy at first.