We came across a funny thing the other day which, in hindsight, wasn’t all that funny (haha) at all. It concerns people who want to run and exercise who are really quite embarrassed about getting out and doing things. They are worried about what others might think of them, and so seek positive affirmation through running with groups.
Let me first say there is nothing wrong with that – in fact, anything which enables people to get out and do things and have a more positive mindset about exercise is an excellent thing as far as I am concerned.
The problem comes when the leader of the group becomes controlling over the group and individuals within it – to the detriment (both physical and psychological) of the people who are trying to be more positive.
Picture this. A new runner is just getting better. They have progressed to the point where they are running 2 and a bit km at a pace that is a challenge for them. Wow! That’s amazing – and should be absolutely encouraged. Anything they can do to improve upon distance and/or speed as well as enjoyment should certainly be met with unparalleled enthusiasm.
If they turn up to a session and a load of faster/more able runners are there – who are all improvers – just a little way further along in the process, the pace should be at the pace of the slowest and least able. If necessary, a double loop could be incorporated with the second loop done at a faster pace having catered for the slower individuals.
They should NOT be singled out and be told “well, EVERYONE has to go much slower today because you’re here”. What kind of a message does that send? On a physical and psychological level it is pretty devastating to someone who is only just plucking up the courage to get out of the house with a pair of trainers on.
What is the main reason a lot of people are getting into outdoor exercise now? Yes – parkrun. An excellent institution made for everyone to enjoy. It is not a closed shop, it is not a “training ground” for a local club, it is not “only for people who can finish it at a run”, it is certainly not an unwelcoming community. When I hear about run leaders telling new and aspiring runners that they “should not do parkrun” because of one of the above, or another spurious reason it makes my blood absolutely boil.
If an aspiring runner can get out there on the start line, runs 100m and then walks the rest, that is a start. It has got them into a new way of thinking, a new way of being – the psychological benefits are enormous just from taking part. To think that is being taken away from people by well-meaning, but ultimately misguided over-controllers is dispiriting and flabbergasting in equal measure.
To be told that you can “only run 2km and therefore shouldn’t be in X group” or “shouldn’t even think about parkrun” is wrong headed and intentionally limiting for the aspiring runner.
There are already too many barriers in the way of exercise, both real and perceived. Don’t put more in the way. Encourage. Cajole. Wheedle. Whatever you need to, but don’t start slapping people down. It’s taken them a good while to even get to the stage where they can contemplate running/exercise. Nuture the seed.