When I first started running again, back in 2011, I did it, in part, to have something that was *mine*. Something I was in control of. Something that I could call every shot in.
I had just gone back to work, after spending 3+ years at home, with my kids and I wasn't entirely pleased about it. I had loved being at home. It wasn't my *choice* initially, as I was laid off, but I loved it, all the same.
It wasn't entirely my *choice* to go back to work either. Mr. Man had been laid off and we were both scrambling to find employment. Which we both did. Within mere weeks of one another.
Making matters worse, I wasn't exactly warmly received by my coworkers and I felt awkward and unwanted...but I needed that job, whether I liked it or not.
When I was home, I had my kids and the PTO and all of the different organizations I had gotten involved in. I identified them as my "tribe". I never had to sit alone at the table...anywhere I went, I had a spot.
At the office, I had no such spot. Everything was grey and lonely. People were sniping at one another and I got the sideways eyeball at least 4 or 5 times a day. And because I was now at the office during the day, the rest of my 'tribe" moved on, without me. They were still in the same circles, but I had become an outsider, peering in through the glass.
Not one to just sit back and wallow in a situation that I don't like, I set out to find something to fill the void that I was feeling. I tried doing the group fitness, yoga thing...but it didn't really come to me very naturally. I never really felt *relaxed*. The classes were at times that just didn't suit and I'd have to move mountains to make it work. Mostly, I just felt guilty.
Guilty for leaving work a little early to get there.
Guilty for getting to the class almost late.
Guilty for not being home with my kids after so many hours away from home.
Guilty for not at least trying to hang around and socialize and make friends afterwards.
So I stopped going. Clearly the "zen crowd" wasn't my new tribe.
After a few months, I decided to get back into running. It was pretty simple really...I could go whenever and wherever I wanted to. My kids had soccer practice several nights a week, and it was something I could do while I was there. I set whatever pace felt comfortable and was just pleased with myself for *doing* it. And *bonus*, I had a friend who was slogging through a C25K program with me...so we were a tribe...of 2.
That first 5K came and went, and my interest in running didn't wane. A gulf in ability had started to develop between my friend and I though, and we stopped running together much.
I stepped out on my own, and running became my own thing.
It started to fill that void...I started running early in the morning...when no one else was up. The pre-dawn roads of my small town became my own private playground.
And for a while, this was good.
Over time though, I started yearning to "find my people". I wanted people to talk to. People to bounce ideas and thoughts off of. People to get advice and understanding from. I started looking online, and discovered some great runners. I interacted with them...cheered them from afar...admired their accomplishments and sheepishly shared my own. The longer I "knew" them, the more about their real lives I got to know. Many of them had running friends. Running groups. Running clubs.
I was jealous.
I wanted someone to run with.
I started paying closer attention to the folks that lived near me, and discovered that there were some local-ish running clubs. And as it turned out, I knew some of the folks that were members! I started reading their newsletters and websites...and the more I did, the more I noticed that these weren't just runners...these were Runners. Real Runners. Fast Runners.
I was slow. And just starting out. I couldn't possibly ask them to deign to run with me, could I?
Self consciousness prevailed, and for a long time, I didn't ask. I'd nod appreciatively at their accomplishments...dismissively answer their questions about my own runs...and secretly wish that they would offer to run with me...they didn't. In retrospect, I realize that the ambivalence I was trying to pull off in regards to my running made me seem disinterested and cold...but that was then.
Fast forward a few years...(yes, I said years.) and I was still running. Mostly
With multiple marathons and half marathons under my belt, there was really no denying the fact that I was now a Runner. A Real Runner. I started meeting other folks who were just starting out. Folks that would tell me that they were inspired and intimidated by me. And I would remember being them, and would offer to run with them.
The answer was typically the same, every time..."I'm not ready to run with you..." or "I'd slow you down..." or "I can't run as far as you can..."
I'd always say "That's ok, we can run your pace, your distance..." All I really wanted was to cobble together my own little tribe...but it didn't typically work.
And so I kept running. By myself.
After a while, I focused more attention on coercing my husband and or children to run with me. It was always nice while it lasted...at least for me. They weren't nearly so...enthusiastic...about the experience.
About a year ago, my internet trail crossed with an old acquaintance who had also become a runner. A Runner. An avid Runner.
This ushered in a new age for me, as I finally had someone to talk to and share the obsession with. And because we were far apart, the differences in our abilities didn't matter. We cheered one another on from across the interwebs. We started having virtual running dates. We'd encourage one another when one of us wasn't feeling it and give one another a kick in the ass when it was needed..which was great. Sometimes, it is nice to someone other than yourself to hold you accountable to your goals. For me, it was a refreshing change of pace, from time to time.
Eventually, this gave me an idea...and so, The O'Dark Thirty Virtual Run Club was born, on Facebook. I started out just inviting everyone that I knew was a runner to any degree, on Facebook. And people actually accepted the invite! I was delighted at how many folks accepted the invite, and started posting on the regular. And then, some of them started sharing the group with some of their friends...and before I knew it, we had a fledgling running community.
This makes me happy. Very happy. Some of them live nearby one another. Sometimes they post runs together. I love this.
And I envy this.
Several of us have actually made plans now, solid, real, money backed plans to complete a Ragnar Relay together...people from the tribe we are building. This delights me...and has given me the gumption to start taking more risks about trying to interact with other runners.
Last night, I met up with a new (to me) group of runners, for a post-work 4 miler. A work friend of mine and I planned to meet up there and run together. Which, ultimately, is exactly what happened.
Just not right away.
When I first got there, there were about 20 runners milling about, decked out in blinky-flashy-glowing safety hats, vests and knuckle lights. Not a single familiar face in the crowd. I stood off to one end, silently surveying the scene...and considered bolting. Small groups were huddled in friendly conversation...I couldn't envision an "in".
Just as I was about to back away, my friend, The Flash, appeared. I'm fairly certain that he has never, in his whole life, met a stranger. He has an open and friendly nature and immediately strikes up conversation with anyone around.
No leaving now...
We continued to wait, as he talked to a few folks he already knew. While we were waiting, a 10 year old girl came over and commented on my bracelets. We had a brief conversation and then I turned to what I assume was her mother and introduced myself. Which, for me, was a really big step.
Before long, we took off, lighting up the night and the back streets of central PA. The Flash and I chatted idly for most of the time, so I didn't really interact much with anyone else...but I was *there*. I was *present*.
As we finished up the 4 miles, the group made ready to pour inside of the restaurant that we had used as our starting an stopping point. (It is a "Beer Runners" group...) I didn't stay...but someday, maybe just maybe, I will.
Slowly, timidly, cautiously I am finding that, while I may not have a tribe to call my own right now, what I do have...what I can build for myself is a life "pace group". We may not connect on many things...but when we are running, we are a community. It's terrifying and wonderful.