Why (and How) I Joined A Running Crew

Mar 10, 2022 by Amber McClain Shaw, in Blog Posts
In the past, one of my best strategies for alone time had been going on a run. I hadn’t particularly enjoyed running for the physical act itself, but I’d fiercely protected my runs as the solitary time I needed to just let my mind wander (or keep telling me to stop as the case may be). Along the way I’d enjoyed the other benefits that came with being a semi-regular short-distance jogger; moderate fitness, being outside, wandering my neighborhood spaces, people watching, listening to podcasts or music, or just quiet time to think.

Years ago, when on vacation with friends, I went on a run with a friend who runs a lot. Accustomed to just doing my own thing, I struggled with trying to match someone else’s pace and participate in a conversation I could only partially hear as I ran behind them, weaving around pedestrians on a crowded narrow pathway. I spent most of the run worried that my friend was going to crash into someone, only to see other people dodge out of their way at the last second. It was stressful and not at all fun. Right, I thought, I’m definitely a solitary runner.

I raised a runner. My oldest son Bennett found the joy of running at a school walkathon in fourth grade and after running competitively through high school and college is now competitively running marathons. 

While he was growing up, I taught him about proper nutrition, cooked endless huge meals, and climbed around lots of cross country courses with a camera, trying to catch a glimpse of him flying by. I traveled across the country several times to watch a race that lasted less than 30 minutes. I watched how his teammates became his lifelong friends. I saw how running helped him through stress and heartbreak.

I had no idea that I raised a runner who would then turn around and be my coach. 

He started by just encouraging my running. And then he taught me how to run by feel and not by numbers, and why that is important if you want to increase awareness and enjoyment. And finally, after watching him move to a new city where he knew no one, and join a running group that quickly became a friend group, he encouraged me to find one too.

But, I run by myself. 
A group? Not my thing. 
I’ll think about it.

Upon reflection, I realized that solitary running was no longer serving me. I had more than enough alone time. I was bored with my running. And while I love my close group of friends, whom I’d spent so much time with during the pandemic, I needed to be around other people. My carefully honed strategies of getting time to myself were completely out of balance with my current life as a (mostly) empty nester and partner to a person who happily works seven days a week. 

It was time to transition running from my alone time to something social. Maybe . . . a group is actually what I needed. 

After an online search, I found a few groups in my area. One really stood out to me, Bay Area Running Crew, or #BARC. First, I liked the idea of joining a crew. Second, this group’s message of inclusivity and all paces welcome gave me the courage to give it a try. The season was starting in a few weeks, which gave me some time to work on a nagging foot issue and get myself ready. I signed up. I got measured and fit for new running shoes, started some professionally-recommended foot exercises and stretches, tuned up my nutrition, and worked up my courage to show up to this crew, where I knew no one.

The day arrived and I was ready to try it out with an open mind. The meeting time was 6pm and it was dark and cold. I showed up 10 minutes early and the first person I met was Daniel, one of the founders of the group. He welcomed me so warmly and openly, and directed me to the meeting point. As others showed up, everyone was welcoming to me as a newcomer. I was still a little nervous about the running part, and standing there in the January chill, suddenly realized that my world had gotten too small and my conversation skills had gotten a little too rusty during the pandemic. Getting out of my bubble was overdue.

This was my first run with BARC. They take lots of fun group photos.

There was a quick welcome, a quick warm-up, and we were off. Running at night was novel to me. Running with others was novel. At first I was running in the group but kinda on my own. As the group spread out, there were two women who seemed to be running about my pace. I ran near them and struck up some conversation. One of these young women was running with a broken arm. As I learned more about her story, I was so inspired and was not focusing at all on my pace, or how hard I was working. I was barely paying attention to the course. Other people ran by, including a tall friendly guy with an even more friendly dog, who wanted to make sure we were on course and not running alone along the underpass next to the homeless encampment.

As we finished the course, I thought well, I didn’t run very fast or very far, but it sure was a lot of fun! I joined in for the outdoor picnic afterward, where I met a couple of other members of the crew. I drove home elated, feeling like it went better than I could have hoped. I wasn’t the slowest person, and I have a few new friendships forming. I was pleasantly surprised when I got home and checked my Strava tracking app. I ran faster and further than I had thought!
I joined in on another run a few days later. I met more people, and ran twice as far as I thought I could. And it was fun. Yes, running became fun!

On my second social run, I was no longer the new person. Several people greeted me by name and were genuinely glad to see me back. I welcomed a new person, who was so grateful and asked to run with me. This time I really did run slower than my normal pace but I enjoyed the people I ran with so much that I really did not care. When we finished the course, some of the faster women congratulated us slower runners. I’ve met some inspiring people and enjoyed being a part of this crew united by the desire to run in community. It’s unlike any other group I’ve been a part of, and exactly what I wanted and needed.

When I told my son Bennett all about it, he said, “OK I’m only going to say this once. I told you so.”

Touché. I’ve probably told him that once or twice.

Thanks Coach.