Sunday, June 15, 2014

Beer Running

I'm a solitary dude. My hobbies are reading, writing and trail running (alone). I work at a large community center. Pool, fitness center, child care. A hangout for kids, teens, adults and seniors. It is arguably the most public workplace in the county. And I have pretty much the only job that does not routinely interact with the public. On a quiet day, I can sit in my office for two, three, four hours without talking to single person. But I like people. At least occasionally. Once or twice a day I'll leave my office to walk around to enjoy a quick "dose of humanity." And then I'm good. Had enough people-time. Happy to be alone again.

A year ago, a handful of runners, runners who actually like to run with others, started a local Beer Runners chapter. The idea is that a group of people can bond over a run – three to four miles, and then bond some more over a beer (or two). Because my co-worker, Nancy, is close friends with one of the founding members, I've been receiving Beer Runner teaser emails for about forty-eight weeks. But because the Beer Runners run in a group, I've completely ignored them. For me, running is a meditative process. Silent, serene. Plus the Beer Runners run on roads. I keep to the trails. Easier on my joints, tougher on my muscles.

I used to be a very social person. Twenty-five years ago, I was the guy that everyone would call to see what was going on that night. Out with friends most nights a week. Lots of friends. A big group. We'd take over a bar. Mingle, joke, drink (lots), sometimes hook-up. Back then, beer running would have been one of my favorite activities. A social run, and then a chance to drink, mingle, hook-up. This is actually the sort of thing I commonly did. Lots of adult-league soccer. We'd play and then we'd party. Sometimes three nights a week. And that didn’t include the weekend, the big party nights.

But my personality has changed. I don't like big group get-togethers any more. Married and happy, I’m not looking to hook-up. I don't get drunk. I work hard to control my drinking. Two drinks, maybe three. Not six, eight, fourteen. Large parties annoy me, intimidate me. Mingling is a waste of time. Too shallow, too fake, too much effort. I'm much more of a one-on-one discussion person. I'm not sure what caused this radical personality change. It happened fairly suddenly. A four-month solo bike tour? Possibly head-trauma from a bike accident? These life-changing events happened within a year of each other. Regardless, since that time I’ve been much less of a people-person. Not a likely candidate for a social running group. Plus, they pound pavement. I run trails. I run alone.

Until last week. For a variety of reasons, none of which have anything to do with wanting to run in a group, I finally gave in and went for a Beer Run.

For the past year, my running schedule has been one moderate distance run on the weekend. Seven miles on the trail behind my house. A tempo run with short walking breaks when I pass horse-riders. This isn't laziness. I'd love to be a fifty mile per week runner, but things hurt. Knee bursitis when my mileage creeps above ten to twelve miles per week. Tendon issues, aches and pains. But improving my form has helped. Recently I noticed that after my seven mile run, things felt good. So I've decided to add an extra weekly run. Short and fast, mid-week. Which is when the Beer Runners run.

Last month, I ran a five mile road race. My first in a couple of years. I was happy with my overall time, but not how I got there. Stupidly, I left my watch at home. It had been so long since I ran on a road, I had no idea what pace to run. I figured that I would be better off pacing by feel, by breath than trying to use a watch. Ugly. Out fast with the lead-pack. Fast first mile split and then I fell off from there. (Disclosure: this is a small community race. I'm talking high sixes, not high fours). People passed me the rest of the race. I hit the time I was shooting for, but every mile was slower than the last. I've completely lost my concept of pacing during a race. Weekly beer runs will give me a chance to work on my pacing at a variety of distances. And gutting through the final miles after going out too fast.

But the primary reason I've started beer running is the beer. Well, the social part after the the run. I read an article in a old Runners' World magazine about running tribes. How group runs are a growing phenomenon. In all the pictures, everyone looks like they are having a blast. They look cool, connected. This is something I wanted to join. I miss my social days. The easy conversation over a beer. Meeting new people. Taking over a bar with a like minded crowd. Part of something big. But I don't miss getting drunk, hooking up.

Two weeks now and I'm hooked on the Beer Run. And surprisingly, the thing that has hooked me is the group-run. It was motivating, much like running a race. The first week I was planning on a light workout, a slow pace. I had already instructed a spin class that day. My legs were spent. But I went out thirty seconds faster than planned, and mid-way through the run, I caught two women pacing off me. I had to step it up - too competitive. Attack the hills. Hard tempo on the flats. No breaks on the downs. The three of us knocked another 30 seconds off our pace for the next mile and a half.

The social part is painful. Group situations shut me down. I know many of the runners, but not well. We don't hang out, aren't close. This is a mingling situation, and I don't remember how to do that. I'm sure that many of the beer runners endure the run for the social-time afterwards. For me it is more like I endure the social-time for the run. I'm socially awkward, sort of weird. I need practice, and I've decided the beer runners will be my training ground. We all have something in common – running, beer. It's an entry point.

After two weeks, my future-inclination is to complete the run and head home. End on a high-note. But I won't allow it. At some point I need to address my lost social nature. Now is the time. I plan to stick it out. Get to know people by the routine of my presence. Once I get past the mingling, friendships will form. I'll be part of the tribe. Cool, connected? Doubt it. But more social, less awkward. Looking forward to the run and the beer.

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