I’ve been running pretty much all of my life since I could run, but I’ve been running what I would call regularly and seriously for about 25 years. Over all of those years I’ve learned so much about running. It’s
almost embarrassing how little I knew about running when I decided to run my first marathon compared to what I know now.
For the last 21 years I was so focused on running half marathons all over the United States that I didn’t have much time for anything else since I also work full-time and have a daughter. When I was running four half marathons a year, my life was predictable in that I would start training for a half marathon, run it, take a couple or so weeks off, start the process again and repeat it until I ran my last race of the year, usually in November. December was my break off from training and races.
Now that I’ve reached that goal, I have more flexibility in my running life. When I saw a post from my local Fleet Feet running store about a training group for new runners they were going to have starting in January, something caught my eye. It said they were looking for mentors for these training groups. Hmmmm, I thought. Maybe I could do that. After all, I had been trying to think of ways I could give back to the running community and so far all I could come up with was volunteering at races.
I filled out the application form, which was quick and easy to fill out. There were questions about running history, what target distance and speed you wanted to work with (choices were 5k, 10 mile, half marathon, and marathon with speed choices ranging from sub-9 minute, 9-10 minute, 10-11 minute, 11-12 minute, and run/walk), and why you wanted to volunteer as a mentor. The form stated the running groups would be meeting twice a week, on Tuesdays for a 30-minute run and Saturdays for a long run. The goal races were local ones in late March and early April so it would run through March.
Within a couple of days I received an email that I was accepted into the program as a mentor. A few days after that we met for our first Tuesday run. I signed up to mentor the 9-10 minute mile group. When the leader asked who was there for that group, one guy said he signed up for the sub-nine minute group but he could go a little slower and run with the 9-10 minute group. In addition, there were a few runners for the 9-10 minute group.
There was another mentor who signed up for the 9-10 minute group and he had been a mentor before, so he took the lead and began running at the front of our small group. I’ll call him “John” here. John didn’t ask me anything about my running experience, if I was familiar with the running route, what to do if a runner slows down or starts walking, or anything at all. In fact, there was no communication whatsoever between John and me before our first run with our group.
It turned out this was the only week where the fastest runners were in the sub-9 or 9-10 minute range so John and I ran with the 10-11 minute mile group on subsequent weeks. I struggled with John’s “methods” of mentoring, as he basically ran at the front of the group, never once slowing down if anyone else from the group couldn’t keep up. He liked to talk about the importance of hydrating during a run and being able to slow down for the easy runs. From my perspective, he seemed to lecture more than talk about things from his view and it rubbed me the wrong way.
Another mentor joined us in the third week so there were weeks where it was almost a 1:1 ratio of mentors to runners. This guy who I’ll call Jack seemed more personable and actually communicated with me before going out on a run with our group. He quickly picked up the fact that I was faster than he was so he suggested I run with the people from our group who were faster and he would stay with the back of the pack. It worked perfectly and honestly I found myself wishing John wouldn’t show up (which sometimes happened) so it would just be me and Jack since we worked better as a team.
Other than dealing with John, being a mentor to new runners has been a wonderful experience. I’ve chatted with several people in our group and have enjoyed our runs together. On my last Tuesday run, one woman who was training for her first marathon told me she really loved running with me because I was “so motivating and fun to run with,” and she said I helped keep her going. She even asked if we could run together on other days during the week (we haven’t yet, but we’ll see).
The new runners have been fun to run with, never complaining, asking questions to better themselves as runners, and basically have made it easy to be a mentor to them. I always try to make sure I stay within the goal race pace for them (which was a learning curve for me) and pepper the runs with some light conversations to make the runs more enjoyable for them. They have told me on more than one occasion how thankful they were to have me there, which has made me feel like I truly am making a difference.
Have you been a running mentor? Have you signed up for a Fleet Feet training program or other training program where there were mentors? If you’ve done either, what was your experience like?