Friday, July 29, 2011

Running Acculturation

Many of us have lives that involve complex interactions with people and demands on our time and our being. We may feel that we are riding a horse that sometimes we can control and sometimes it has a mind of its own and all we can do is hold on and hope it goes in the general direction we want to go. One of the many pluses of running is that when a runner is out on a trail or, heaven forbid, a road he or she is in control for that time period. One can speed up, go slow, stop for a breather, walk, take a drink, change routes, etc. We don't have to consider how it affects the needs or wishes of others. Running with others changes that.

Six months or so ago I joined a local trail running group and I manage to run a couple or three times a month with them. There are about fifteen hundred runners on the contact list but the groups that I meet up with usually have between 10 and 20 runners. The runs I choose generally take place on trails that don't require I drive far; consequently, the terrain is relatively flat and the runs are usually "no drop" easy runs. The social format is that the group stays more or less together and over the course of the run each person seems to have the opportunity to chat and run with the different runners in the group. The etiquette is fairly informal and simple to follow. Sticking with the horse metaphor, I'm on a horse that is going where I want to go.

Recently I woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep. I knew there was a 5:30 AM run that day, so I decided to join it. I wrote of this run in an earlier post but not with respect to running etiquette. The mountain trail route was more challenging and the pace was faster. There were five of us and we were soon a group of three ahead and a slower paced pair running behind. I was in the threesome; we went faster than I would normally run solo but it was good for me to be held to a pace. We stopped two or three times and waited a minute or so for the other two to catch up. After a three and a half mile ascent of about 5% average grade we had a somewhat steep descent. The two I was with dropped me and one by one the two behind me went by. On the ensuing ascent one of the two caught the lead pair and I caught the other who had asked to scoot by on the downhill. We chatted a bit about shoes and such but he was soon a couple of strides behind and I sensed, slowing down. I pulled away and reached the top of the ascent a few seconds behind the lead three. We waited a couple of minutes for the other runner and took off through the woods on a slight descent. I was fourth and comfortable with the pace. After a few minutes, on a tight turn the fellow in front of me glanced back and noticed the fifth runner was by himself a minute or so back and he pulled off without saying anything, but clearly just waited for the other runner. I went along with the two with whom I had started out.

I wondered if I should have slowed down to accompany the last runner since I was the closest to him in pace. But he had gone by me on the descent. The run wasn't a declared "no drop run" and usually the run leader takes charge to keep the group together. I don't know how everyone else thinks, but my view is that as a runner I'm used to running by myself. Having other runners around provides some peripheral entertainment and if running shoulder to shoulder and chatting happens that's cool, and if I end up dropped that's OK too. I still interact in a way; I see if I can recover and catch up. Communicating ones wishes directly is good too; we could always say what we want or need.

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