1:15. 1:20. 1:25. 1:30. The minutes ticked by, and I was no closer to sleep than I had been at midnight. It was Friday night (well, Saturday morning, actually) before my first 8 am group run with PPTC, and my stomach was in knots. Worries raced through my head: Would I be too slow? Would the other runners be mean? Would they be able to tell that I was often picked last in gym class? I chalk up my anxiety to decades-old insecurities. As a nerdy, bespectacled kid with zero hand-eye coordination, I grew up with a phobia of team sports.
That first group run was hard but fun. I ran a loop of Prospect Park at about a 9-minute mile pace (speedy for me, especially back then) with another woman who had been in PPTC for a while. I suspected she was faster than me, because she kept asking, “How is this pace for you?” (she was breathing as if we were perusing the shops on 5th Ave), and I’d reply, “It . . . is . . . fine . . . thanks” (I was gasping to get the words out).
A few weeks later, I found out that my considerate running buddy was actually one of PPTC’s speediest ladies; she sweetly pretended to be around my pace so I wouldn't be left in the dust. Now, two years later, I still think that first group run is one of the best things I've ever done. I’ve found sole mates, and I’ve learned some valuable lessons about running, myself and our beloved borough.
Running revelation: Hey, I’m popular!
In case you didn’t guess it from the fact that I was picked last in gym class, I was sort of a dorky kid. But now I feel popular (I’m in an athletic club, people!), especially when I walk or run through the park with non-PPTC members. “Good morning, Coach!” “Hi, Marianne!” (Psst . . . Marianne van Ooji was the kind speedster who slowed down for me on my first group run.)
Running revelation: It’s so much more fun to sprint to the finish.
It’s easier to push yourself when there’s a team rooting for you. Four-and-a-half miles into the Turkey Trot last November, I was ready to drop. But when Jess Yeomans hopped in to run the last half mile with me, I kicked it into high gear. Ditto for how I felt after Cat Hill in Central Park during the Team Championships, but catching a glimpse of the PPTC banner waving in the breeze, along with all the red jerseys, made me gun it to the finish.
Running revelation: I heart Ocean Avenue.
I used to loathe that long, straight stretch of Ocean Avenue between Prospect Park and Coney Island. That is, until I fell in love with Free Fireworks Fridays Group Runs last summer. Suddenly, that six-mile route was my jam. Especially the final stretch: pounding down the boardwalk en masse, then turning happy, tired faces upward to watch the fireworks crackle and pop over the sand.
Running revelation: Who needs music?
My headphones used to be as much a part of my running ensemble as my sneakers. I was in awe of joggers who ran without them. “Don’t you get bored?” I’d ask. But I no longer depend on Kanye, Jay-Z and Rihanna to get me through a long run. Now I depend on Janice. And Cynthia. And Jessica. And sometimes I even run by myself . . . in silence!
Running revelation: There's always plenty to talk about.
After my first few PPTC group runs, my husband would ask the same questions: “Who did you run with? Did you know them beforehand? What did you talk about?” Turns out, there’s always plenty to say. Running, like wine at a cocktail party, is a social lubricant. It’s instant common ground. And I’ll take a runner’s high over a hangover any day.