A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my turn near the front of my half-marathon training group comprised mostly of beginners. By unfortunate coincidence, an injury forced me to reduce my mileage considerably, and so I spent last week’s training session at the back of the run/walk group.
While the coach was very good at explaining technique and transition, I found it difficult to establish any sort of rhythm. Running allows your mind to wander – indeed, it is part of what makes running so appealing. You can focus on form, breathing, footfalls or perceived exertion.
During a walk/run, you are pretty much consumed with your watch. When do I start and when do I stop? Going from one form of locomotion to another every few minutes is surprisingly tough to master. And it’s embarrassing to learn I have been walking incorrectly for about 48 years. I guess practice doesn’t make perfect after all.
Another difference in the back of the pack is that the amount of conversation increases exponentially. In the middle of the pack pleasantries and brief comments are exchanged, and in the front there may not even be someone nearby to talk to. In the back there are full-blown and lengthy dialogues, sometimes with multiple participants, encompassing both personal stories and pressing issues of the day.
This sort of conversation is rare in other sports. It’s hard to imagine similar debates occurring while playing tennis or boxing.
Boxer 1: “Hey Bonecrusher, where did you buy those gloves?” (Whap!)
Boxer 2: “I picked them up at Pugilist Barn on clearance.” (Ooof!)
Boxer 1: “Do you think they have them in red?” (Pow! Thud! One, two three!)
Finally, I find that the folks near the rear provide a lot more inspiration. It is easy to admire elite athletes who are able to run sub-5-minute miles without visible effort. Most of the people in the back are really working hard, and because of their relatively low speed they will be working hard for a longer time to cover any given distance. Their ethic gets you going ñ making your struggles seem very small in comparison.
Perhaps running groups would benefit from a kind of student exchange program. Spending time with runners of varied paces is educational for everyone involved.
Now if I can only master that walking thing. Let’s see, left, right, left, left no, that’s not it.