Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Learning to Run Within a Group

This is my tenth Marathon Clinic.

And some things never change.

The single hardest thing for newbie marathoners to learn, is how to run within a group of other athletes. For people who are naturally ambitious, competitive and driven - who else signs up to run a marathon? - it is often a seemingly impossible task.

As a Pace Group Leader myself, I have the natural advantages of being large, loud and obnoxious. When people run too fast, or - God Forbid - run in front of me, I ask them to stop it. The second time I have to do it, I am likely to raise my voice. And I am not afraid to ask people to leave a group because their actions or behavior are ruining the experience and training experience for everyone else in the Pace Group. Not every pace Group Leader can be as obnoxious as me.

Hey, it's a gift.

I have come to call my philosophy behind group runs - the Long Slow Distance (LSD) Sunday Runs - "The Love of the Pack". In order for the pack to be successful, we all need each other. Everybody has good days and bad days. We run together to support each other. A good Pace Group can run 35 kilometres and all finish tightly packed together and all still chatting away without a care in the world. The competition is saved for race day. And then all bets are off.

But a group on a long slow distance run should never be split up, spread out, bunched up ten across on a sidewalk, or a Bridge, or GOD FORBID, leave a runner having a hard day behind in the dust. In my books, that is a criminal act. And a Pace Group Leader who allows the aforementioned behavior is no leader at all. And letting people get away with such behavior in a Pace Group is cowardice.

New runners don't get the idea that they will need to train carefully and cautiously for 18 weeks in order to save it for Race Day. When it comes to the 26.2 miles of the Marathon, they still haven't learned to respect the race or the distance. Boy are they in for a shock on race day.

The bottom line in running with a group of course, is all about ego and community. You have to put aside your selfishness and recognize that you are running with others to derive the benefits that come from running with a group during a training run. What ever happened to simple good manners?

Notice I said training run. A training run is not a race. There are no winners and losers in a training run, yet you would never guess that from our Pace Groups behavior recently.

This latest marathon clinic has more than its share of runners with talent. Unfortunately it also has way more than its share of runners who are completely and utterly self-indulgent, self-centered, self-absorbed and self-interested.

What it all really boils down to of course, is ego.

Let me digress for a moment, in what I hope will illustrate the point I am trying to make.

As the Dalai Lama - as great and as good a man who walks the Earth today - travels and lectures around the world these days, he rarely spends time detailing the major tenets of Buddhism, such as its Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

Instead, the Lama is likely to connect the religion's broad themes to everyday life, as he recognizes that the biggest struggles that individuals face in the West, particularly in North America, are not with overcoming suffering but with overcoming ego and an over-inflated sense of self.

The Lama's major point is, with Buddhist teaching that there's no ego to really obsess about. ...

If you realize that ego is not an important foundation of our lives, we can easily find common ground.

That's a Buddhist approach, but the real issue is the common universal theme of reconciliation and community.

All you have to do when watching people compete within a training run and jockey for position at the front of the pack, is to see the incredible sense of indignation from people whose sense of ego is so over-powering and so passive-aggressive that they have lost all ability to see past their ego. And they have lost all ability to see how their actions negatively effect those around them.

They can not imagine that others might have the right to run in front of them. They can not imagine that their needs are not the most important in the group.

And more importantly, they fail to aknowledge and to recognize that other people may have a legitimate point of view that may even contradict their own.

The world is not about you. Or your place at the front of the pace group. Or your ego.

If you or your behavior is disturbing the pace group or causing difficulty for others in your pace group, you should be ashamed.

First, because you have obviously failed to learn the lessons needed to behave in the larger world and the responsibility you have as a member of that world, and secondly because you have failed to understand your own place in the larger world and your community. In this instance, the Pace Group. Do you know your place in the Pace Group?

Living in a community requires that we reconcil our needs with those of the rest of the people we live with in the community. These are the occasions where our individual needs are less important than the larger needs of the entire group as a whole. Or, in other words, The Pace Group.

Reconciliation is not about ego, nor about being right or wrong on a point of law. Reconciliation is about recognizing that you are a small part of something larger and more important than yourself.

When you recognize that, you are on the road to enlightentment. And to being a better runner and a better neighbour and a better person as well.

And then everyone can enjoy their Sunday Long Slow Distance Run in peace.

And then speed to their personal best on the day of the actual Marathon Race.


Anonymous RunningGoddess said...

Your best Blog yet.

And completely out of left field.

Always interesting to be surprised by new tricks from an old dog.

11:21:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...


I think.

4:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for having the courage to say what many of us think but are too afraid to say.

9:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't your Clinic leader supposed to be responsible for the pace groups?

9:57:00 AM  
Anonymous S said...

Don't they teach pace group etiquette in your clinic?

How can you run at the right pace if you are in FRONT of your pace group leader?

10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

Being a Pace Group Leader is hard.

It is one of the most difficult things I have ever done, and I have slogged through a lot of mud and deep shit in my life!

When I am the leader of a difficult, hard to control Pace Group, my heart rate actually gets elevated by as much as five percent. That is 10 heart beats per minute! That is a clear indication of how stressful being a Pace Group Leader can be.

And that 5% can completely take you out of your target heart training zone which Sinday morning Long Slow Distance runs are all about.

Marathon Clinic leaders have both a professional and a moral responsibility to explain and teach running etiquette to new marathon runners. But honestly, some of the experienced runners are the worst offenders.

If you can't follow the rules running with the group, you simply shouldn't be allowed to run with the group.

Me, I'm a hard ass. I have no trouble telling people to take a hike if they are ruining it for everyone else in the Pace Group.

Unfortunately, in our current clinic we have at least a half a dozen people ruining it for everyone else on Sunday mornings.

It's a shame.

Worse, it's a dangerous situation that could lead to someone getting injured or worse.

The runners who can not follow instructions should be told to leave the clinic, given their money back, or told to go off and run on their own.

Some runners can't run in a group. So they shouldn't ruin it for everyone else by trying to. Leave. It's a simple solution.

They are clearly too stupid to listen to instruction or to follow simple ideas. Their ego is in the way. They know it all. They are different from everyone else.

I have to wonder how they've managed to cross the street for so long without being killed!

11:53:00 AM  
Blogger Anthony Epp said...

Not sure why people feel afraid to say anything if there's a problem... As the leader of this clinic I'd welcome the feedback and I know the other group leaders are anything but intimidating.
We all need to be reminded about group running etiquette and running safety, but again I am pretty sure the current group leaders have known what they are doing. If they don't, again, the feedback is always good.
Between Seymour and I, we're a pretty friendly team... If there's a problem let us know. If you're in the clinic, you have our e-mail... Sweeping generalizations make for poor discussions. Give me something specific (and rather than single someone out publicly, again, e-mail me privately). I'm always open to constructive feedback.

It's nice to know that there are problems but I can't fix them unless I know who to talk to.

1:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you for real Anthony?

Get a grip.

You don't understand why people would be afraid to say something?

Let me put it this way.

As the so-called leader of the clinic, you are one of the fastest, most talented people there is.

You told us so yourself on the first night. All about your Boston Marathonss and your three hour marathon and your Ironmans.

That's why they pick guys like you to lead the clinics.

But you have little or no clue what it is like to be at the back of the pack.

Or to be slow.

Or just to be trying not to be humiliated every time the clinic runs.

Or maybe you once did, but you have obviously forgotten.

People don't say anything because the Running Room is totally made up of little cliques.

It's worse than high school.

And Denman is one of the worst of all.

I sometimes wish the people in the personal best clinic would just go off and die, the way they usually treat ordinary runners.

Do you get it now?

Vince is an asshole at times.

But at least he's OUR asshole!

Tell it like it is Vince.

4:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know Vince most of what you do on your Blog is complaining. Maybe after doing 10 marathon clinics its time for you to move on. All you do is create trouble. Your mostly seen as a joke anyways. No one takes what you say seriously.

4:33:00 PM  
Blogger Anthony Epp said...

Well, I've never thought of, nor referred to Vince as an asshole of any kind.

I don't exactly understand what this argument is. I put in my two bits because I hope to find out exactly how I can make the clinic better. But there's nothing really specific in any of these arguments and nobody has e-mailed me once about a problem with any pace group... And those in the clinic have my e-mail address.

I do remember. I started running just like everybody else in the clinic. I was in the so-called "back of the pack", though I have never really considered it the "back", considering that most, if not all, the people who start off in the slowest group wind up being close to, if not ahead of, half of the racers come race day. We tend to compare ourselves against the wrong benchmarks. I am not an elitist when it comes to running nor have I ever been. Anybody who talks to me should know that.
I am, by far, not an elite athlete, nor do I pretend to be. I've done Boston... yes... But so has Vince and countless other people. I admire them not because they were fast enough to get there but for the effort and drive they brought to make it happen. But I admire someone who sets any goal that involves becoming better, or realizing a dream, or anything, and then does what it takes to move towards that goal.

I don't think I've lost touch on reality. I send out enough e-mails to my clinic to fill most e-mail servers, and ask for feedback every week.

Honestly, e-mail me as there is a real concern here, but I still don't see what it is. If it's a matter of pace groups not sticking together, I'd rather figure out which ones they are so we can help make it work better. I don't think of this as "us vs. them". We're all in this together and we're all trying to have fun in the process.

When it's not fun, as I've asked in my e-mails and when chatting with my clinic members, that's when I really want to know. I am a very approachable and friendly person and I never talk down to anybody as far as I know. Whether I am "fast" or not should have no bearing on whether someone can talk to me or I can talk to them... And if I have made you feel that way, then let me be the first to say I am really sorry because I have no intention of that.

I'm just out here trying to help, along with Seymour and Vince (both of whom I admire and support incredibly and would not, and could not, be part of this clinic without).

5:00:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

Hey, I mentioned the Dalai Lama in this post!

Chill out!

Let's have a little love!

I urge even the most talented runners to go slow on Sundays because they will BENEFIT THE MOST!

All marathons START at 20 MILES (32 K).

You MUST have an aerobic base to do well in the last 10K.

I participate in the marathon clinics because I get a special thrill and a unique opportunity to help and assist people achieve for what is to many a LIFETIME goal... Running and completing a MARATHON!


No matter what time you finish in.

When you do that, it makes you one in a thousand.

Don't lose sight of that magic.

Please, I'm begging you here...

Please don't get so caught up in the training trees that you miss the view of the marathon forest.

Appreciate the people you run with.

Remember that we share the streets and sidewalks and trails with other people who, even if they aren't runners, love the outdoors as much as we do!

They are our Brothers and Sisters.

Please make room for them on the road of life.

Some of the best and most unique friends I have ever met and made in my life - I met in a marathon clinic.

I am talking about people I love and share my life with.

The slower you go on Sunday - the more people you can meet, the more stories you can tell and listen to, the better you will become.

We do this to HAVE FUN!

Please have fun.

When you are running with a group of like-minded souls, you should consider yourself Oh so LUCKY to be part of something special.

5:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah Vince ... nice to see you getting in touch with your hippy side ;-)

Peace, man!

6:41:00 AM  

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