This is the first in a series of articles meant to explore what makes certain running clubs effective at bringing together individuals with their own goals to support the larger running community. Each week will focus on one specialty of a running club local to a recent race.
It was early. Too early. It was so early it could be considered the late of the previous day. Also, I lived forty minutes away and need at least twenty minutes of prep time from the moment I wake to get out the door. So I woke at 4 am, pulled on my big boy runner shorts, laced up, grabbed a bottle of water and hit the road. Pulling into the parking lot, I could see a large group of excited runners limbering up in yellow shirts, checking their watches, and adjusting programs in their phones. Most, if not all, were far too social for this time of the morning. What on earth got people up this early and this cheery on a Saturday morning? Time to wake up and smell the burning rubber.
Thus began my first visiting group run with FIT (Friends In Training). From the moment I contacted them, I knew this would be a friendly and immersive club. My best friend in Fort Lauderdale, Danielle Sylvester, let me know about this group and how they had supported friends of hers in their quests to complete half marathons and marathons. My initial contact was with the head coach Marcela Todd. She was immediately receptive to me joining the group but expected me to contribute. Not only did I need to run with the group, but I was expected to talk at one of their after run seminars about my 50/50/50 plan and how I envisioned that going. Talk about diving in head first!
I thought I had gotten to the park early for my group, but then everybody was all ready to take off. It turns out that the group leaving was the 1:1 group, they were running one minute and walking one minute. The runners are broken up into different groups based upon their overall pace. Each group then has two to three coaches who are there to support the high pace, middle and low pace of that level. There were many levels and you could switch whenever you felt you needed to change. They staggered the timing of the levels so that everybody ends at around the same time. It was incredibly effective. I was scheduled to run with the 3:1 group. I must admit I was a little nervous as I watched the bubbly and vivacious 1:1’s run off into the distance. Would I be fast enough for the 3:1’s, would I hold them back? I shouldn’t have worried.
Immediately after the 1:1’s took off, 3:1’s started pulling in and getting out of their cars. I wasn’t dressed in the official bright yellow shirt, but I was in typical runner gear and they had been forewarned. The assistant coaches for that group Denise and Lisa introduced themselves and started taking roll call of their runners. It was explained that the group was a little light due to the holidays, but I was still impressed with the people willing to haul themselves out of bed at this time. Checking the time and their people one last time, our fearless leaders started us off, the beeps and tweets of everybody syncing their watches sounding like we had rustled a pack of wild Floridian parrots out of their roosts.
As I said, I shouldn’t have been worried about the run. Marcela had asked me specific questions to be certain which group would fit my needs. We all fell into a natural rhythm and the pack began to stretch out based upon our own comfortable pace. I ended up running towards the front of the pack with Lisa and some other focused runners. Lisa expertly kept us at a conversational pace while making sure we took our prescribed rest periods and stayed on course for the day’s goal of 10 miles. There was a happy and positive atmosphere the entire run culminating with us belting out Bon Jovi’s Living On A Prayer over the 17th Street Causeway Bridge (remind me to not belt falsetto when running up the only incline on a course, whew!)
Lesson Learned: Give Them Something To Look Forward To!
There were many great benefits about running with FIT, but the one thing that people got most excited about was the big running trip at the end of the program. Not only was the schedule mapped out for participants to build up their stamina and strength in training, their schedules also included local race dates with appropriate distances throughout the training (10ks halfway through for the half marathoners, Half Marathons halfway through the marathon training.) Each runner had their own goal races, but everybody was excited about the travel race that was scheduled at the end of the 6-8 month program. The previous year had been an excursion to Alaska which many members still talked and laughed about. This sessions trip to New Orleans has everybody ramped up, even the people who can’t go. I’ve said this before, sometimes the visualization and planning of a goal can be as satisfying as seeing it completely through. The final travel race gives everybody a shared vision and it is a powerful motivator.
Thanks to all my new friends at Friends In Training for making me feel like I was part of your group and being so supportive of my first talk on tour. I look forward to running with you next year and sharing all the lessons we learned in 2016.