What I Learned on My Running Vacation

Posted by Filed Under: Training

OK, my vacation from running.

I was sidelined from all forms of aerobic exercise a while ago, for about 2 1/2 months. During that time I volunteered with my local running group’s 10K program. My job was to show up, collect and keep track of paperwork, and take photos of the runners coming and going. But there were a few other things I might have done.


Lesson one: I quickly learned that paperwork is not my strong point. Get yourself organized, and prepare for half-done applications, illegible e-mail addresses and cash instead of checks.

As with any group, it takes time to really bond. There are a few ways you can help this process along. Like:

1. Learn participant’s names. Not so easy when you are bad with names, as I am. Whether you are leading a running group, or organizing a high school crew team, don’t let participants stay anonymous. Anonymity leads to hiding; hiding leads to feeling alone; feeling alone leads to dropping out. Start by learning people’s names.

2. Get to know the participants. It takes more than just greeting people by name. In the case of the 10K group, there were several volunteer coaches. Those were the only people I knew, and I only knew them slightly. Often I would gravitate toward the coaches. And that meant I was ignoring the group that could make or break the program: the participants.

I see this when I’m the coffee lady at church. The coffee servers huddle together and talk to each other, sometimes even turning their backs to people after they’ve been served. If you’re new at church, coffee ladies can be one of the “friendly” faces you rely on for small talk. It’s the same with a running group. (Well, not coffee ladies, although hey that’s a great idea!)

I started making a point to talk less to the people I knew, and talk more to those I didn’t. This doesn’t come easily to some of us, but like you learned in kindergarten, a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met. Or, is someone out to get you. I can’t remember what I learned in kindergarten!

3. Keep track of people. Yes, this is a no-brainer. I should have instituted a check-in/check-out. But I didn’t. So one fine wintry morning, a participant (who got there early) headed off to find a bathroom and while that person (whose name I didn’t even know) was gone, her group took off without her because I forgot to tell them that someone was in the bathroom. She came out to find them gone, and I found out that she had specifically arranged a babysitter so that she could attend training that morning. She made the best of it, and went with a slower group, but I felt like an idiot.

4. Buddy up. Get your participants to stay responsible for each other. Make sure that people know to tell someone if they need to drop way back, or quit a run early. And remind people to tell someone in charge what happened.

5. What to do with latecomers. If a group training run is scheduled for 9 a.m., let everyone know the longest you’ll wait. Is it 9:15? 9:05? Pick a “grace” period, and then stick to it. It helps everyone to know what’s expected, and prevents you from keeping the group hanging around in case someone else shows up.

6. Run, eat, drink. My experience with the 10k group was that people tended to split pretty quickly after they came back from the run. They’d stretch, gatorade-up, and then take off—for home, or errands. A few times the coaches went out for breakfast, but it might be nice to institute a post-run optional brunch as another way to cement those bonds.

7. Coach e-mails. Each week the 10k group coaches sent e-mails to the participants, giving tips and encouragement, and asking people to check in during the week. This can be a great way to let people know you’re there for them, you remember them, and gosh darn it, you like them.

8. Start a blog. The 10k coaches did this, but it turns out that there are runners in this world who aren’t actually addicted to blogging. Or even know what it is. Who knew? So despite our best efforts at promoting the blog as a place to find out information about upcoming runs and read fun posts, I’m not sure how successful it was. Still, it was fun to do. And I’m all about the fun.

9. Take photos. To post on said blog. Nothing says you’re part of a group more than photos. Who doesn’t like to see themselves? (OK, some people don’t, it turns out. We respected their wishes.)

10. Get group t-shirts, if you can. The funnier, the better. And make sure you keep track of who ordered what size. Because your participants won’t remember.

11. The finale. And finally, if the event culminates in a race, attend it and cheer on your runners! Our head coach sent an e-mail after the Capitol Hill Classic 10K, congratulating all the participants who raced. And then he posted a race report on the group’s blog.

Care to share? Tell us some of your best/worst experiences as a training group participant.

About Jeanne

Cocky, headstrong, and genetically insecure, Jeanne is known by her friends as the Tall One. Whether its running a marathon, or ringing bells in choir, this love-able rapscallion finds ways of landing in all kinds zany, madcap adventures. You can find Jeanne musing about life, running, bell ringing, and other things at her favorite hangout, Not Born to Run. When not regaling her public with tales from the trails, Jeanne works as a Web editor for a national newspaper. She is also a freelance writer. Jeanne lives in the leafy suburb of Bethesda, Md., just outside the Beltway.

One Comment
  1. Peter on July 14th at 1:44 pm

    Good suggestions, Jeanne. Your help was invaluable during the program and evidently you were taking notes. Thanks for the sound advice.