Strength In Numbers

I like group runs.  I like running clubs (as evidenced by the fact that I have to pause and tally them up when someone asks what clubs I run with).  A lot of that has to do with the fact that runners in general are just pretty nice people and I find that having a scheduled run to go to helps give me some sense of accountability.  Sometimes I’ll use a group run to help push my pace, sometimes it helps me back off and not gun a workout that should be a recovery day.  Rarely, though, do I need a group to just make it through a run, like I did this past Saturday.

The plan as to head out the door at 7:30 a.m. to join a group from The Trail Animals Running Club in the Middlesex Fells for a 16-18 mile run, basically 3 laps of the Reservoir Loop starting in Winchester.  As I was rushing out the door at 7:45, I couldn’t find my wallet, which turned out to be exactly where it should have been , just under something.  Long story short, I didn’t get to the Fells until 8:30, with the group having already departed.

Not wanting to bag on the run just because I didn’t have the group to start with, I set off on my own, hoping I’d be able to find my way based on the one other run I did there a couple weeks ago.  I managed to take the first turn from the main trail onto the loop, but that’s about as far as I got.  My major mistake was in thinking that a trail blaze forming a right angle was actually an arrow pointing the direction of the trail, and not an indication to go right.  Oops.  Almost immediately after losing the orange blazes I was supposed to be following, I fell.  Not hard, but enough to skin both knees and jostle me pretty good.  Knowing there was a good chance this would happen in the upcoming 50K race, I just had to pick myself up and figure that the immediate pain would go away and I’d be just fine.  Turns out I was right, though my later shower did sting something fierce!  By this point I was thoroughly lost on trails I’d never been on.  One woman asked if I was lost and what trail I was trying to find.  Hopeful that she could help me, I explained my situation, to which she replied that she didn’t know the trails at all and couldn’t help.  Thanks for that.  Being a novice trail runner, I made the same mistake as I had the week before on a terrible run – going out too fast for a trail and getting tired quickly by the technical terrain.  This combined with a general sense of depression that the run was not what I hoped it would be led to getting demoralized pretty early on.  As I was climbing a steep section of the Skyline Trail, which I ha no business being on given where I was trying to get to, I made the decision to just try to head back to the car, quit, and try again on Sunday to get the miles in, this time in the comfort of the gym.

Through absolutely sheer, dumb luck, I happened upon the orange blazes I’d been so desperately seeking.  I even managed to find the trail that would lead back to the car, although I didn’t realize it at the time, which led to me going back onto the loop, and that’s when I saw the first group of Animals coming down the trail at me.  Instantly my spirits picked up and I started feeling like maybe I didn’t have to bag the run after all, maybe I could do this long distance trail running thing.  As it turns out, that group was seeking out another group of Animals, which just happened to include my Marathon Sports Boston Run Club Friends, Courtney, Ryan and Bethany.  The two groups somehow found each other and I switched over to the second group to continue my run, knowing that group was looking for about the same mileage I was.

Having found new strength with a group around me, I fueled up at the car and we set out for the next two loops.  I won’t take you through the next 3 hours, other than to say it was a thoroughly enjoyable run with fun conversation and beautiful trails.  It did turn out to be a great lesson in what it takes to run long distances on technical trails, at least for those of us who are more just looking to finish an ultra than to win it.  Following my more experienced fellow runners’ leads, I started getting a feel for when it was smarter to power hike a hill or section of trail than to waste energy running it.  This made a huge difference in how I enjoyed the run and was a good lesson that ego can get in the way of things sometimes.  I had to allow myself mentally to walk some parts, a big step for a road runner who generally thinks walking during a run means something has gone terribly wrong.

I know times will come where I have to face difficult runs alone and power through them through sheer self-determination.  For now, though, I was glad to have found some strength through fellow runners, and Animals to boot.


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