Thursday, September 27, 2012

Run with Strangers!

Monday is not usually one of my regular run days due to a varying schedule, but this Monday I found myself without any prior commitments and was faced with a truly difficult decision. Should I continue sitting on my butt and watch a little more TV or should I get up and take advantage of this rare opportunity with a run. Now I'm here to tell you I am a professional at sitting and soaking up some television waves.  Since I was not able to watch much of anything for 2-1/2 years, I find myself watching mindlessly just because I can these days. Ha!  That being said, I am also not one to pass up the chance to get outside when possible so I grabbed my running gear and headed out.

I had a meeting at 2:00pm that afternoon, so I thought a late afternoon run might be a good idea for a change.  Earlier that day I was cruising some of my usual websites and on one, a local running shop named Fleet Feet Sports Birmingham, saw a posting for one of their weekly runs called "Monday Runday". This is weekly event sponsored by Tin Roof, a local restaurant/bar, where runners of all levels gather and go out for a run of either 2, 4, or 6 miles.  I thought this might be a great opportunity to get a run in and meet some new people since I rarely get to run with anyone.

The run was to start at 6:00pm so after my meeting, I headed downtown to locate Tin Roof having not been there previously.  I was happy to find it was located in a part of town known as Lakeview which is littered with restaurants, bars, and parks.  It's an older part of town on the Southside with some really good atmosphere.  It's also relatively flat with sidewalks everywhere which makes it a really good running neighborhood. I parked the car, changed clothes and took off on a warm up jog down to the meeting point.

I was excited to see a wide variety of runners gathered for the run.  Everything from beginners doing a "Couch to 5K" to some of the local professionals where all outside Tin Roof ready to go.  After a quick introduction and welcome everyone in the group indicated what distance they planned to go and we took off.  I was hoping to get at least 6 miles in so I located a couple of guys who indicated that distance too and linked up with them.  The guys I met were Tom and Russell and we started out with a relatively relaxed pace of around 8:35 which is my normal training pace.  We talked a minute about what we wanted to run and decided this was a good pace for all.  Those that know me know I am not a speed demon by any means.  I am lucky to hold a decent pace in the mid 8's these days since I have not done any speed work in a long time so I was happy to settle in and just cruise for a bit.

Birmingham is not a flat city.  It's built in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains so no matter how flat the area is when you start, you know sooner or later the hills will get you.  This run was no different and at about mile 2 we started to climb some of the rolling hills in downtown.  Since I am a relatively small, light runner, I'm usually pretty good at going up and down hills.  I pushed a little on the climb but really let go on the down hill.  I didn't  feel like I had pushed the pace much but took a look over my shoulder and noticed the guys were about 25 yards behind me.  They caught up to me at the bottom of the hill and said look at your pace. I was shocked to see we were now running a 7:30 pace.  I could not believe it.  I was running faster than I had in a long time and I was not dying.  I could breath, my legs were not screaming, my heart was not pounding out of my chest.  What was going on and who had invaded my body? I had no clue but I was not about to question it so I just embraced the pace and held on for dear life.

The miles seemed to melt away.  We continued to keep the pace around 7:30 and to my surprise I was able to keep up.  The hills definitely helped but even on the flat sections I was holding my own.  Of course I know the weather had a great deal to do with my performance.  I am a cold weather runner and during the run, the temp was in the low 60's upper 50's and it was perfect.  The weather contributed to my ability to breath while pushing but I am still surprised my legs did not give out.  As we crossed mile 6 we decided to go on for another mile.  We continued on for another 1.25 miles to wrap up with a total of 7.25 and an average pace of 7:55.  It was a great feeling to finish after running hard and still not feeling totally spent.  I know we sped up and slowed down from time to time which explains the average pace.  But for me to hold a sub 8 average pace for 7 miles is an accomplishment in itself and one I thought was in the past.  I was thrilled and more importantly now knew I was capable of more than I thought.

After a post run beer I headed home.  On my way I thought about the run and all of the specifics.  I know we runners tend to over analyze ourselves and our runs and I am no different.  I went over every mile and came to a couple of conclusions:  One, the weather was a major player in this run;  Two, no matter what the weather had been, had it not been for the group, I would never have discovered what I could do.  Running with others is key to improving your running.  It pushes you, it allows you to gauge yourself, and it shows you what you can do.  I know it is not an option for everyone but I would recommend at least one group run per week or every other week.  Check out your local running club or running stores.  I guarantee there are plenty of opportunities to meet up with groups everyday almost anywhere you live.  Running is typically a "loner" sport but it can be a very social sport.  Get out and run with strangers because they won't be strangers long. I went to this run knowing no one and left with two new friends.

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