Marathon Training: Group Leader Confidential

Every summer thousands of people train for the Chicago Marathon and many of them join running clubs like CARA. Although I’m not doing it this year, I’ve group leader since 2003 and have trained for both fall and spring marathons, so I’ve led a lot of different groups of runners over the years.

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Two of the biggest scandals we group leaders get accused of are

  1. pushing the pace and
  2. too many water stops. 

The pace groups are split in 30 second increments, e.g. 8:00, 8:30, 9:00, 9:30, etc. and the goal is to run the LR (Long Run) distance no more than 5 seconds off pace per mile.  As we go deeper into the season and the LRs increase, stopping for water becomes an issue. We’re encouraged (or is it required) to stop approximately every two miles or so for a water break. CARA and Fleet Feet have set up Gatorade stations along the lakefront as well. The issue is that stopping and waiting for everyone to get water takes time if your group is large and it’s sometimes hard to start back up again, especially once the LRs get into double digits.

For years these two scandals were things I’d hear other group leaders talk about but really didn’t experience first hand. I use to lead the 8 minute per mile (8mm) group at the newly established downtown site and usually only had 2-3 runners at that pace. Between our egos and low numbers, it was pretty easy to get along. Water stops didn’t take very long and pushing the pace was rarely an issue as we were already running as fast as we could.  Once I started getting slower, I switched to leading  an 8:30 mm group and the griping has increased a bit.

A few summers ago, one runner in particular was a Problem Child from the beginning and let us know about it. She was complaining about pushing the pace, and running extra miles, and water being wet. Wanting to do my due diligence as a group leader, I dropped back and ran with her, listening to her gripes. Apparently we were guilty of pushing the pace for the first mile of our LRs over 30 seconds too fast. This winded her for the rest of the distance and “it wasn’t enjoyable.”

I seriously doubted we snuck in an 8 mm but even if we did, it shouldn’t wind a person for the rest of the afternoon. I apologized that our pace might not always be on target but pointed out that our average pace was coming out to be around 8:35 each week, which meant we were actually running some of those miles slower. She didn’t want to hear it. After talking with her for a while, I could tell we were not having a meeting of the minds. I spoke in English, she spoke in Total Disgust, a cacophonous dialect of F-You.

Problem Child opted to train at a different site for the rest of that season.  I hope that she found a group she can run with and a group leader who can hold pace better.  But something tells me she’d just find something else to complain about.  To be sure, one winter I was taking a workout class at my company’s gym.  I was sitting on the floor stretching when I heard someone talking to their friend, complaining about the pace of the workout, the temperature of the room and the size of the class.  I looked over and sure enough, it was Problem Child.

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