My alarm blared at 7:15 a.m. last Saturday. Outside temperature: 18 degrees. My mission: Running. I could have dozed on, but I rose, applied layers of high-tech outerwear and headed out. Why? I needed column material.
When I arrived at George Washington University, where I'd promised to meet exercise physiology professor Joe Boys, I found dozens of other runners. And I'm thinking, there aren't that many fitness columns in this town, are there?
Members of the GW Road Runners Club hit the Crescent Trail.
(Courtesy George Washington Road Runners Club)
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Boys leads training runs of utter novices, and Saturday's gathering was preparing for the Cherry Blossom 10-mile race this spring. The group included groggy-eyed men and women from their early twenties to mid-sixties, thin and plump, black, white and Asian.
"I could never do this on my own," said GWU senior Kate Murphy as we jogged, slowly, along Pennsylvania Avenue. "I need the group."
That summarizes our message today: If a goal seems too daunting to attack alone, get help. All runners I talked to said they showed up as regularly as possible because they knew that up to 100 other runners would be there. (Most Saturdays see around 80 runners, Boys said; I visited on Presidents Day weekend, when attendance was closer to 45.)
"This makes the time fly by," said Scott Walthour, a 30-ish engineer who works in Rosslyn. "You get a preplanned route, people to talk to while you run, and D.C. is a great city for this, with the monuments and the river."
Like a scout leader, Boys maps the runs for each of three training groups, which are split by ability, assigns coaches to help runners who have training questions, and lines up guest experts for those Saturday meet-ups.
Boys's program includes recommended runs during the week. Luke Brooks-Shesler, chugging along Constitution Avenue with icicles matted in his hair, added another practical motivation: "This keeps me out of the bars on Friday nights, knowing I have to be here at 8 a.m."
Neither Brooks-Shesler nor any other runner has to show up. Participation is free, nobody takes attendance and nobody's pay is docked for skipping a run, but, as Heather Dolan put it, "I'd feel like I was letting the other people down if I blew it off."
The group is not accepting new participants until after the April 3 Cherry Blossom event, but sign-up begins in May for the training program for next fall's Marine Corps Marathon (see www.gwu.edu/~runners/). Some D.C.-area running groups that particularly welcome new runners include Potomac Runners (www.potomacrunners.org), D.C. Road Runners (www.dcroadrunners.org), Montgomery County Road Runners (www.mcrrc.org) and Prince George's Running Club (www.pgrc.org).
If you can't find one that fits your ability and schedule, form a clan of your own -- friends, neighbors, co-workers, presidential appointees -- and make a pact to show up. Your own reliability may surprise you.
Speaking of group fun: No chat this week, back next Thursday. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- John Briley