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Reducing the intimidation factor: Strategies for all runners

People come to Running Free group runs with different athletic goals, abilities and expectations. For many runners, the phrase “Who’s doing 20?” means a mere 20 km jaunt. For the new or novice runner and power walkers, this language and goal is pretty intimidating – for this group, “doing 20” means running 20 minutes, 20 light posts or 20 steps. The efforts and significant accomplishment associated with someone new to running going out for a 20 minute run often goes unrecognized and unacknowledged in the Saturday long – slow – distance congregation. It has been my experience that this division and an intimidation factor emerge when “doing 20” is seen only in terms of kilometers. This phrase may cause new runners or walkers to become afraid and leave the running group. This article, written for all runners, provides advice and simple ways to reduce the intimidation factor, and create a supportive running community where the athletic abilities of all people are welcomed and supported.

Advice for the long distance and experienced runners
The distance doesn’t matter

Before Saturday long runs leader call out “Who is doing 12, 20 or 30km? “ which causes people to organize into various sub groups. Those who are not part of these long distance groups are relegated to the “learn to run” group. While this practice is well meaning and seeks merely to engage people with similar athletic goals, the approach often fails to recognize the efforts of individuals planning a 20 minute run, 30 minute power walk or a 5 – 10 km jog. Being labeled as “learn to run” infantilizes these athletes and diminishes their health conscious efforts. Most in the group know how to run!
For some new to Running Free a perception that all runners will aspire to running long distances or have lofty athletic goals such as running Boston, a triathlon or a 100 mile race, seems to be present. But that is really not the case! All people are welcome. For me, a middle aged woman juggling the multiple demands of the sandwich generation, running 20k is not something that I aspire to. My goal is to “just” do 5K. This is applauded by most in the group.

Encourage everyone in the running community
Words of encouragement are so important for any runner. It is so significant for a novice runner or power walker to have their athleticism acknowledged on the road. A simple “Hello! Great job!” to someone who is at the run an minute/walk a minute stage or at the 2 k mark of a power walk on a scorching hot day can boost confidence, promote acceptance within the running community, and reduce the intimidation factor for these athletes.
Experience runners sharing stories of their athletic journey is another great way to encourage novice runners. For example, I was in awe of a runner who recently places in a local marathon. After talking to this superstar I found out that he started running with the run a light post walk a light post method. Over a 6 year period, he lost 75 lb., quit a stressful job, and began racing moving from 5km, to 10km, to half and now marathons. He has the same aches, and pains that I encounter on a run. Knowing this makes each of my runs a little bit easier. We all need to hear each other’s tales of running. So please share your stories
A great way for novice runners to hear stories is to hang around after the runs and talk to people or attend social activities with the group. After run social events, such as going for a coffee, beer or smoothie, need to include all runners. Including all runners in these events promotes a positive running community where mutual respects for everyone’s efforts flourish.

Advice for new /novice runners and power walkers

For me, the best part of running is being a part of the running community- a group of like minded individuals interested in fitness and healthy living through running. Recognizing ways to minimize the intimidation factor, and engaging short distance or power walkers into trail and track workouts with other more accomplished runners are what keeps me coming back to Running free.

The reverse loop
Longer distance runners often take circular loop route.

This type of route leaves can leave slower runners alone and in the dust of others throughout the run. To stay connected with the group, I take a reverse loop route.

I run counter clockwise to the group – forgetting about the beginning portion of the loop and running the reverse route to the half way point. By doing this I am able to meet other runners on their return journey. There are two benefits of this route for novice runners: 1) It allows you to see other runners and feel connected; and 2) it promotes safety for the novice runner because they are not alone on the route.
Drive to meet the group

Running or power walking 5 km two – three times a week is a major positive health activity. However, when the majority of the group are heading off to trail runs miles away from the Running Free store, new or short distance runners and power walkers can feel that they are missing out on experiencing the beauty of the area. An easy way to be a part of trail runs is to drive to the trails and meet the group. To do this, I meet the running group at the store to find out their route. Then I drive to the trail, park my car, and set off on my 5k run. Along the way I see other runners from the store. Once I am done my workout I drive back to the store to share in the post run celebration. I use a similar strategy when doing speed workouts. While the running group trots over to the track (some 4K away), I drive and meet the group at the track for my workout. The driving to meet the group strategies allows me to see new scenery, engage in different types of workouts and most importantly be a part of the Running Free running community!

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  • I agree, not everyone should automatically take it to the next longer distance. Why not be the best 5k runner you can be first?

    Last year, the two fastest guys at Ajax Running Free took one of the new slow guys out on one of his first long runs, at his speed. Stayed with him beginning to end. He is now as much part of the group as anyone.

    As fast as I am, there are faster. Matt Leduc is kind enough to run with us too, and man can he fly. We often see him running back after he is done to catch up with some of his slower pals. Chase and be chased – it is a great way to improve.

    To all you just starting, it took me four tries with months of painfull shin splints between each try, before I could run (3k once every three days). Don’t give up. And once you get it going, NEVER STOP.

  • Well worded Laurie.
    Gee Dan, now who was that other runner on that particular run you speak of ??

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