On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why was I crying on a park bench the other day?

Why? Beats me. But, I'll tell you how I got there.

My plan for the weekend was this: Saturday morning, try out the Nike Marathon Training Group (out of Niketown) and see if that could be my long run; Sunday morning, run with the NYRC Marathon Training Group - for my long run if need be, or just for a recovery run otherwise.

I'd heard that the Nike runners were a large group and that they were more friendly to slower runners. They also have a policy of not leaving the last runner behind, which I like. So, I was excited.

I'd run with them once before, and it was an odd experience, enough so that I never returned. I think it may have been before I started this blog. It was the middle of winter, cold and dark, and we were running an out-and-back 4m. A little before the turn around, I noticed the last Nike pacer was kind of circling around near the woman who had to have been the very last runner. The woman was struggling. I stopped to walk, more to see if this woman needed company than for myself. And she did! (When I say the pacer was circling around near here, that's literal - she'd run ahead, run back, stop and stretch, run back.)

It turns out this woman had never run before in her life, but some coworkers had told her to try the Nike group since they're encouraging of all abilities. She was wearing a cotton sweatshirt, yoga pants, and older shoes. We walked together for a bit - just long enough for the pacer to think we were friends and to wander farther afield.

Now, I was stuck. Frankly, I didn't want to walk the 2m back to the store with this woman. But, I didn't see how I could abandon her. I tried everything: "We'll feel warmer if we run!" or, trying to get the pacer's attention and point out to her that I didn't know this woman. Finally, the pacer came over by us and started small talking.

She mentioned something about a race she'd done recently, and I murmured the polite, "oh, that's so impressive," that was called for. And here's what the pacer said: "Oh, you'll get there. Coming out today is a great start. Soon you'll be able to run the full 4m, and then someday a 10k, and if you keep trying, maybe even a marathon eventually! You don't have to run fast to get to the finish, you know."

Yeah, I know. Trust me, I know.

I wasn't offended by her comment so much as by the fact that she didn't even listen to us enough to catch on that a) we weren't friends, and b) I actually was a runner capable of running 4 (or more!) miles. I don't hold it against Nike or against that particular pacer. But it was annoying.

So, Saturday. They do have a large group, and the plan was to run 10m around Central Park. My typical pace for long runs (and I wanted to add a few miles on post-Nike) has been around 11 minute pace, and with the hills of Central Park I was thinking I'd scale that back to 11:15 or 11:30, even (it was hot). When they divided us up into groups for pacing, the last group was planning to run a 10 minute mile pace.

Whoa, there. I can't do that. My fastest pace for Central Park during a 4m race is 9:52. My 10m race PR is 10:30.

I told the pacer that I'd be the last, and she said she'd keep an eye out for me. She meant that literally - every little bit she'd glance over her shoulder and make sure I was still there.

So there I was, during a hot part of the day (they don't start until 9, which was actually more like 9:15 or 9:30), running a course I hate, all by myself.

I tried to pull it together and salvage the run. I knew it wouldn't be my long run, but could it at least be a decent tempo run? The first mile, with the stupid Cat Hill, was 10:08 by my watch - and I was a ways behind the group. By mile 2 (slowed to 10:20 on my watch), I couldn't even see the group anymore. I was done and I decided to run home. The pacer had turned around to run back to me, so I told her that the group was too fast for me and that my run was over and I'd be leaving Central Park. She looked confused; I could tell she didn't know how to handle the situation and I felt kind of bad about it, but I couldn't keep up.

So I left Central Park at 100th St., sat down on a park bench in the middle of the intersection of Amsterdam and 100th, and felt the tears. Tears that I'm a crappy runner, tears that I couldn't keep up with that group, tears that my long run was bagged, tears that I ran TWO TIMES last week because of this stupid funk.

I got it together after a few minutes (okay, actually after I was kicked off the bench by some guy watering flowers) and I ran home - the second half of the run was actually pretty great.

But that's where I'm at. I'm determined that this week will be better and I'll get myself together. Starting... tonight after work. When I run. Hold me to it.


  1. Holding you to it. Have a lovely run tonight. Treat yourself to a route you like! Or don't run. Just treat yourself.

  2. Oh no :-( First, sending you a huge hug on the bench, in the past - I know that's not possible with the setup the time/space continuum, but it's the thought that counts, right?

    My first thought is the super obvious one - this isn't the running group for you.

    With you blogger elite status, have you ever thought of starting your own group in NYC?

  3. Thanks, Majo.
    And, M, blogger elite status - you slay me! I run with Katie sometimes. Maybe I should see if she wants to run sometime soon...

  4. Bike tonight. It's still aerobic, great on the legs, and actually generates a breeze in this crap soup NYC seems to be stuck in this week. You'll feel better. Trust me! (#pollyanatracy takeover resumes!)

  5. Consider yourself held to it.
    Here is what I think: no one should be left behind by a pacer in that situation. The pacer, by running back, wasn't doing you any favors, just making you feel worse. I'm kind of surprised that they would think that everyone is going to train @ 10 minute or greater paces. I'm also surprised that they wouldn't have planned for more pace groups than that.

  6. I kind of agree, Ian. I think they were spread a little thin because they had three groups all at once - a walking group, a running (non long run) group, and the marathon group. But still, if there were maybe 30 people running 10m and I was the ONLY one slower than them, I don't know...

  7. Oh, Tracy! I can definitely relate to this experience. Being the last/slowest runner, feeling inadequate, the crying on the park bench...been there, done that. This run, on this day, with this particular group was just not meant to be - we can't all have euphoric workouts every time. I find it indicative of your character that you showed so much concern for that poor woman on the winter run, even in light of your own frustration with her. And you did manage to salvage your workout on the way home. Go easy on yourself, woman!

    Are you running at NYRC tonight? I'll be there!

  8. this post made me haz a sad. It annoys me that they say they cater to all paces but actually kind of don't seem to? I totally get how your experience can totally make you a) lose your mojo and b) get all emotional. I ran with faster peeps this morning and literally wanted to stop and cry because they made it look so easy while I was sucking wind.

    But you WILL get yourself together. I'll hold you to it! And reward you with You've Got Mail and delicious food.

  9. THIS IS WHY I'VE NEVER RUN WITH GROUPS! They all say "all abilities" but they don't really mean it.I had an exchange with a "everyone welcome!!" group coordinator where I asked if 10:00 milers were indeed welcome...he said "well, occasionally we've had someone who can't keep up with the group..." meaning of course "you fat cow, we'll lap you at that rate.

    I loved running with you and wish we could have this morning...brooklyn bridge was steamy but I enjoyed it. Next time :)

  10. I did this. Worse, I did it with friends who left me in the dirt. It happened when I was training to walk the avon 60-mile, 3-day walk. They totally left me behind and alone and I finished the 7-mile walk crying my way down the bike path along Route 66 in Northern Virginia. The thing about runners is that they talk about group runs as being social and helpful and that running with faster people helps you learn that you can run faster, but the truth is that so many of them leave out the folks who finish in the bottom third of most races (but can run long runs just fine). Sometimes I think it would be nice just to start a group of runners who only run in the double digits between 10 and 16-minute miles. And just work together that way. The whole speed thing makes me fearful of running with people, because usually I'm already training my brains out and working so hard -- that I don't need the added mental freak out of feeling last.

  11. +1 on Looseyfur. We should totally start a slow people running group. Slow and proud!

  12. This post made me so sad :( My coach always used to tell us that running is a roller coaster--for every high, there is a low. There have been times when I felt like throwing in the towel and quitting running forever, but it always seemed like right when I got to that point, I'd have an awesome run and forget all about it. So I think there has to be an awesome run for you on the horizon!

  13. I can relate, parlty. I joined a clinic and I was always DEAD last, these people were experienced runners.

    Fortunately everyone got to do their own thing and there was no one "checking" on me ever, but holy did that hurt my ego.

    I still run races and I'm usually somewhere around the middle I think, but I was so far behind these people!

  14. Okay, you guys are all awesome and I can't tell you how much I appreciate all of the comments!

    @Kate - that's why I was so upset, I think. I'd heard that their "all abilities" was ACTUALLY all abilities. But no!

    @Looseyfur and Mz. Duffy - hmmm... something to think about, for sure. I really resent the whole "you'll get better if you keep at it!" attitude. I've been running for a decade. I'm never going to BQ, and I'm cool with that. Why not support the slower people? I like the way you're thinking...

    @Brooke - thank you, and I hope you're right. Last Friday I had one of those awesome, transcendental runs, so it is karma that I would go through a bad patch.

    @FFS - YES! YES! Where are the people who are behind me in races training? That's the question I'm wondering!

  15. First of all: apparently Nike isn't 'all paces are welcome' friendly. And a 10 minute-mile long run pace is quite speedy and has nothing to do with an 'open to everyone' running group, if you'd ask me. For a company like Nike this just sounds wrong.

    Second: You're not slow! Seriously! Your times place you in the middle of the pack (which rocks!), and there a lot of runners behind you. How many did you leave to eat your dust at NYCM last year? I rest my case. Don't let this running group thing get to you! Emotracy will be gone asap, I'm sure!

  16. How was your run last night?

    Saturday's run totally sucked! 10:00 as the slow pace?! WTF? Who are running - the elite? And I feel bad for that woman in the first story.

    If you say you are going to pace so no man gets left behind, that means you RUN with them. That is what we do in our runing club.

    Don't worry, I will stick with you this Saturday. 11:00 plus sounds good to me (I do try to avoid walking too much though, as it bothers my knee, so I may not a bit of running up and back if you need to walk - hope that is okay!).

  17. i know i'm a little late to the comment game here but tracy, you are so motherfucking badass and that has nothing to do with speed. keep on keeping on with your amazing, inspiring running.


  19. This is exactly why I don't dig running groups. If they're going to have pacers, they should publish WHAT paces they'll be supporting, rather than have you get there and discover it only goes down to 10:00 (which, for a long run training group? Is so not "all abilities"). At least the paced groups tend to stay together, though, and I do enjoy those as long as there's a pace I can fit in with.

    What really gets me are the group runs without pacers that claim they take all abilities, but 90% of the group takes off at 8:00 miles and I end up running by myself anyway because no one else is running my pace. I can do that at home, thank you very much.

    I'm sorry you had such a frustrating experience. Get back out there and be secure in the knowledge that, unlike that pacer, you are not a raging jackhole. (Seriously. Either walk or run slower, but don't LOOP BACK. GAH.)

  20. Yes! Yes! Yes! I see this with groups in NYC all the time: "We have runners of all abilities, from 6 minute milers to 9 minute milers!" First off, I kind of object to the speed=ability labeling, but then on top of that, seriously? I think read the other day that the average time for a female marathon finisher a couple of years ago was 5:08. So 6-9 minute milers represents "all abilities"?

  21. Tracy, this is why I don't run with groups normally, either. The 11+ min/mile NYRR group in the long training run this past weekend was running 10:15 minute miles. I ended up with a 12;20 pace for the long run that I did myself.

  22. Slow People Running Group ("SPRG"), pronounced "sprig." I like it. We should organize this! I'm betting that all of those people behind us in the races are training alone - I did. When I started running, I would troll around running partner postings and Meetup groups looking for 11+ minute milers, but could never find anyone who would admit that pace. So, I was intimidated and thought no one, including the various sports shop groups (like Nike's), would want to run with my slow self. I'm sure lots of slower and new runners feel this way.

  23. You know what, Tara? I just emailed Jack Rabbit to see if they've ever considered a running program/group run targeted to slower runners. I didn't suggest your name for it in this first email, but I expect that to come out soon enough :)