The Group Runaround

Group run etiquette from the guy who got it all wrong
Staff Writer

One of the cool aspects of working at The Active Times is that, every so often, a gear company invites you out on a field trip to meet sponsored athletes or test out product or both. Such was the case last night, when The North Face organized a group run with ultrarunner Rory Bosio in Central Park for NYC-based media. Rory, if you've never heard of her, is a super talented Truckee, CA-based runner who finished second at this year's Western States 100 and fourth at this year's modified course, 100km Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. She's friendly and laidback and hardcore, all at the same time. The idea was to take a leisurely, short (approximately four miles, according to the pre-run packet) jog around the park in some Spring-Summer 2013 trail gear while Rory filled us in on how deeply athlete feedback influences The North Face's product design (they call athletes The North Face's "DNA").

But I arrived late, and bungled the whole operation. Instead of a slow, genial lap or two in Central Park, I frantically cruised 5.5 miles around the whole of the park's southern end, backtracking here and there and all the while scanning the road ahead and behind in search of my would-be running mates. Somewhere around the 5-mile mark of my lonely run, while I was lost in thought about how dark and rainy and horrible it was turning out (geesh—sounds like the end of a Hemingway novel, doesn't it?), I decided to make lemonade out of lemons. Here, I thought, is a learning opportunity to be seized upon! So, with no further ado, 4 simple rules of group run etiquette:

1. Never Be Late I suppose it's obvious, but people don't want to wait around for you. It's a simple matter of consideration for your running partners and the importance of their time. In my case, I showed up about 13 minutes late. I had no idea exactly how long ago the group had left, or what pace they were planning to run, so I just set off on a blind chase, hoping at every turn that I'd see them and join up.

2. Know the Route You never know when or why (bathroom break, stretching a tight muscle, shoe tying) you might get separated from the group, so it's always good to be able to count on yourself to find the way. As for me, I can probably count on two hands (OK, maybe a foot, too) the number of times I've been to Central Park, and that's after nearly four years here. In my hurry to meet the group on time, I barely glanced at the provided route map. When I didn't catch the group in the first 1.5 miles, I started to doubt that I'd followed the correct loop, and I began a long backtrack. It wasn't long after that when all hope of finding them would be lost (I didn't realize it at the time, though). This rule is especially important if you show up late.

3. Don't Go Sockless in Brand-New Running Shoes This isn't directly related to group runs, but it's a good rule of thumb to follow, anyway. In my rush to meet the group, I forgot socks. Pressed for time and thinking it was going to be a short, easy run, I just laced up without them. That was a mistake. By the time I finished the run, both of my feet had blisters and two toes were bleeding. This isn't a knock against North Face footwear. Running shoes simply need breaking in, the same as hiking boots and climbing shoes, and it's best not to risk it without padding, especially if you're going to run maniacally in the rain.

4. Wear Glasses In the Dark OK, this also has nothing to do with group runs. It has more to do with the fact that I'm mildly near-sighted, and it was really dark and wet in Central Park, and I was trying to pick a small group of runners out of what seemed like millions (plus everyone was so fit and fast that any of them could've been Rory). It was a desperate, hopeless endeavor.

Eventually, I found the group at a local juice shop, where they'd long been enjoying smoothies while shooting the breeze with Rory. "Oh my gosh, you look like you took a shower," someone said when I walked in from the rain, looking wild-eyed and half-drowned. "It's no big deal," I told them, "just wanted to get in some extra miles...alone." But what I really meant is "sorry," so I changed my tack and said that. The group, with its well-meaning kindness and all-for-one mentality, was mainly glad that I was alive. I ordered a peanut butter split smoothie ("It's like a meal in a glass," one girl had said, by way of recommendation, and she was right.), and settled in to swapping war stories with Rory. And it wasn't long before her dark, wet 100km journey up and over the mountain passes of Mont Blanc started to sound like my failed run. Well, maybe not quite.

Here's a map of where the run was supposed to go:

And where I went instead (taken from my GPS watch):

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