Group runs are a great way to meet new trail runners, preview racecourses, and adventure into unfamiliar woods that you may not go to alone. I have traveled 30 min up to 3 hours for a day adventure visiting Umpqua National Forest in Southern Oregon to Mount St. Helens and several places in-between. But the thought of a group run is not fun for everyone; often, it can instill fear and uncertainty. I once heard jokingly that group runs are for all paces, all paces that can keep up. Even though it did get a chuckle from me, it peaked my fear, knowing that I cannot keep up with most paces. I made a mental note not to run with this group. Well, at least not until my speed increases!
How did I overcome the fear of running with groups? I still get a bit intimidated, but then I realize how silly that is. Everyone running has similar goals as yours: spend time dirt churning, have a few laughs, and maybe make a new friend. No matter how slow I am, it is faster than sitting on the couch.
We recently went up to Issaquah, Washington, to explore trails at Cougar Mountain and Squak Mountain. On day two of running, we went to Squak Mountain and met up with the local Run Determined group to get a tour of their backyard trail system. The group run was listed as a ‘conversation’ pace. Still, previously I have completed virtual fundraising run streaks with this group and knew their conversational pace was a strong effort for me! Knowing this, I planned my week for this run to be a speed workout. My intentions did not go as planned. As a healthcare worker, I was fortunate to receive my Covid-19 vaccine, which resulted in excessive body fatigue and derailed my plans of a speed workout. I opted for an out and back with Tia the Golden Retriever to keep me company and met up with the group at the end.
How to prepare for group runs
Reach out to the host and ask what type of run it is. The host runner will be able to tell you what the group pace is if it is a drop or no-drop group, elevation gain, difficulty, technicality, and what to expect when you arrive. Share your current abilities. Often group runs have a wide range of paces, and the host can let you know if you match up with one of their regular runners who typically show up.
Bring a friend. This is my go-to #1 group run strategy. Anything scary is better with a friend. It could be a friend who is at the same pace, slower or faster. The only thing that needs to be the same is the goal of supporting one another on this adventure and sticking together. In 2019 when the large group runs with beer and food were allowed, I attended an NWDC group run with Heart of the Valley runners in the McDonald Forest outside Corvallis, Oregon. Even though I knew many of the trail runners attending (all faster than me), my friend Allison joined me for this undertaking. The group was great, and someone was always at the junctions to make sure the last of us knew which way to go. About 4-5 miles and most of it climbing, neither of us was feeling the trail. Climbing was not our strong suit. We opted to cut the organized route short and explore other trails. We let the ‘sweeper’ know. Even though we didn’t make the entire route, we stumbled across Dimple Hill, a fun detour, great photo ops (not all great photo ops have a mountain view) with many laughs. We finished around the same time as the large group then enjoyed the after run festive.
This brings me to the next point. Be prepared. Most if not all group runs should have a route or GPS file you can download. Before attending a group run in a known or unknown area, make sure you can access the route and/or GPS capabilities on apps like Maps.me, or Gaia. Before each adventure, I review the area and course to understand the elevation gain in relation to the distance. Also, I look for alternate routes in case I need to drop out early. Sometimes this may be taking a shortcut to make the loop smaller or out and back for simplicity. Pack enough water and nutrition to be out longer than you expect. There is nothing worse than running out of water or food when you are making your way back to the car.
If your group does not reassemble after the run at an eatery, be prepared for a post-run parking lot fun. Bring a change of clothes, your favorite snacks, and beverage of choice. My go-to items are charcuterie boards (container) of some sort and hot tea for winter, and rosé for summer. Trail runners will hang out in any parking lot or trailhead, pull out of a camp chair, and share trail stories.
Group runs can be intimidating, but it is definitely worth it when you find new trail friends or trails to enjoy. The trail running community is supportive, and most trail running groups are inclusive to all types of trail runners. I now realize that my fear wasn’t because other runners were faster. It was because I did not cherish and appreciate what my body could accomplish on the trail. Regardless of the difficulty or pace, I end each adventure thankful for what I had achieved that day.