At the beginning of May, I signed up for NYRR Group Training and took my first stab at regularly running with a group.
I didn’t start running till my mid-20s, which means I was never part of a cross country or track team in high school or college. But with a fall marathon on the horizon and little motivation to start training at five months out, I decided to try something new.
That something new quickly turned into a regular part of my week—for reasons I’ll get to in a sec. First, a disclaimer: I work at New York Road Runners, so I’m always hearing good things about Group Training and may have been extra inclined to sign up.
Another disclaimer: While I’m not a total beginner—I’ve got three marathons and 17 half-marathons under my belt—I’m a back-of-the-pack runner and a newbie when it comes to leaving my comfort zone.
1) After 10 minutes, I wasn’t intimidated.
Sure, the first Turnover Tuesday workout I did—400m intervals—was hard as heck. But I quickly realized that everyone at Group Training was there to improve their own running. We weren’t competing. We weren’t racking up points for a team. We weren’t in high-school gym class. We were just a bunch of adults quietly freaking out about our fall marathons.
2) I got over my aversion to talking while running.
I’ll admit that during the first few Tempo Thursday runs, I really had no interest in chatting with coaches and other GT participants while running “comfortably hard” up and down the rolling hills in Central Park.
There’s some trial and error involved in figuring out the whole “perceived effort” thing. My 6 or 7 out of 10, for example, is different from another runner’s 6 or 7. I had to discipline myself by sticking to that 6 or 7 regardless of who showed up beside me. I happily let (many) runners pass me—and stopped feeling like a horrible person for breaking away from a person I’d been running alongside if I felt I could push myself harder.
3) I wanted to throw up during speedwork.
Just being real here. Luckily, the feeling goes away before you catch your breath and find the energy to complain about it.
4) I got faster—fast.
When you go from never doing speedwork to doing intervals and tempo runs, you can obviously expect some improvement. I just wasn’t expecting it to happen so quickly. Maybe it’s a mental thing—and if it is, that’s fine with me—but after a few GT sessions, I was finishing 5Ks several minutes faster than I was last summer.
5) Nobody rolled their eyes when I talked about running.
With friends, I talk about running for more than two minutes and somebody calls me out with, “Um, you’re doing it again.” But at Group Training, people want to hear about your half-marathon PR, your achy hip, and your new GPS watch. That’s big! Miles upon miles to compare running injury stories. YES.
6) I ran without my phone.
Like any professional multitasker, I’ll stop in the middle of a run, fish out my phone, and check my email and reply to texts. But I tried something new during GT: I left my phone in a locker at the NYRR RUNCENTER.
This also meant no music! While I’ve always used it to avoid listening to my own breathing, I’ve recently learned that my huffing and puffing—or lack thereof—is a sign to slow my pace, or speed it up.
7) It was a different experience every single time.
Last week, I finished a long tempo run dead last. My hip hurt, I was wearing the wrong shoes, and—OK, enough with the excuses. We all have off days, and at Group Training, you’re surrounded by people who are rehabbing various injuries, getting ready for or coming off different races, returning from vacation, or just not feeling a 100% humidity day. You’re not always going to be last—or first—but you’ll never regret completing a challenging workout.
8) I got some great travel advice.
I’m running my first international race, the BMW Berlin Marathon, in September and have met people through Group Training who have done the race or will be running this year. From hotel and restaurant recs to advice on not drinking the hot tea on the course—because we don’t do that here in the States, and it messes with your gut—I’ve gathered some great tips. On the flip side, I could tell first-time TCS New York City Marathon participants what I learned last fall.
9) It helped me identify as a runner.
I’ve been running in New York since moving to the city in 2012, have finished dozens of races, and still struggle to call myself a runner. But GT has pointed out to me that as big as NYC may be, there are vibrant local running communities in each park, and they’re akin to the one that exists in my hometown of 1,500 people. I’ve started to recognize Group Training participants at races, long runs, and RUNCENTER events, and it’s making the sport feel a lot less solitary.
10) The coaches made me want to come back.
They’re all awesome, and I’m not just saying that because they’re my colleagues. In fact, I had never met most of them until I signed up for Group Training. I could go on and on about their energy, experience, and insane knowledge of race strategy, but it’s something you’ve simply got to experience yourself.