The first time I showed up for a group run, I had no idea what to expect.
My friend Owen had encouraged me to join him and a group of friends who ran a 5-mile loop every weekday from the downtown YMCA. It was about 13 years ago, and I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to keep up. It was Owen Hotvet and Sam Trebilcock from the city – two tall, thin men who lope along and look the same running in the 6s as they do in the 9s.
What that means is sometimes you didn’t know what you were getting into, as they chatted next to you and cracked jokes with Jon Arneson and Jeff Alvey.
Sometimes we picked up Regan Smith or Dick Holmes or Rob Oswald would pop up along the course, a route that hadn’t varied in a decade. We met just after noon, made our way down Dakota to 25th Street and headed east to Phillips, down to 26th and let it carry us to the bike path.
We came around the curve and dipped into Rotary Park, picking up speed before the bridge over the river at Cherry Rock Park, where we always walked. It was the running club custom – probably still is, but you’ll have to ask Jon Ellis or Sam if that’s still happening. They’re about all that’s left of the group, which has changed over the years as people get injured or get bored or don’t have a long lunch break to spend gathering miles.
They’re a great group of people, and if you see them around – at Spoke-n-Sport for Owen or probably still the Y for Arneson, doing some kind of fair-priced handyman jobs for someone who needs it for Rob -- you should say hi.
These are the people who showed me how to run in a group. How to tuck in when it’s windy, how to be close enough to nearly kick someone’s heels, how to be a friend and walk when it’s hot – something they did for me over and over. How to help each other come back from an injury – Alvey and I spent many hours running in a pool to rehab various broken bones.
But that first time I showed up, I was so nervous I got there about 15 minutes early. I would learn quickly it’s the kind of group that comes in at the last minute and starts running immediately.
They told me the route, stayed within sight of me the first time I did it. I kept falling back, just self-conscious about my ability to stick with them, about being the only girl for the many years until Rana DeBoer joined us for a while.
At one point about halfway through the run, Owen turned to me.
“You know, if you’re always about 20 feet behind us, you’re running the same pace we are,” he said. “Come up here.”
It was his version of Sheryl Sandberg telling women the world over to lean in.
I did. And I ran with them for the next decade just like that – sometimes on their heels, sometimes behind them and every once in a while I would be one of the first to pull into Cherry Rock park, slowing to a jog near the water fountain while they came in behind me.
You knew if you wanted someone to go faster with you, they would. Sam or Alvey or Owen would watch you pick up your pace coming down 26th and know – as you hit the curve into Rotary, they would slowly push and push you.
It felt good. It felt so good – you could be out there and suddenly have a moment of competition, watching the person next to you just pick it up and pick it up and pick it up. The look out of the corner of your eye, the slide as they pulled away and you realized they were never working as hard as you. The satisfaction the few times you got ahead.
The pure sexiness of just hammering it out on the bike path.
It’s how I got faster, and it’s who helped me qualify for Boston. It’s also who ran with me after giving birth, or while pregnant, or after surgeries, or on a day so hot I went down on the side of the bike path and Patrick Lalley pulled a cramp out of my calf that went on to bother me for months.
This is the gift of the group run – I didn’t know if anyone who ran my pace would be there, a pace that changed with the seasons and with life. And they didn’t know, either. Alvey’s slowed down over the years, and they’ve added a 4-mile option. Arneson sticks to the treadmill now. Lalley’s on a bike, I don’t have a long lunch break and most of the rest of them just changed.
On a given weekday, it might be Ellis and Sam, two men who couldn’t physically look more different – one tall and thin and every step the former college road runner and one barrel-chested wearing gym shorts over tights.
Sometimes on a Friday, you’d show up and there would be folks who hadn’t been there for weeks or months. “All-Star Friday,” as Owen used to call it. Now many of us would be the all-stars, were we to stand outside the downtown Y at 12:15 and see if anyone wanted to run. I’d probably text a few first, see who was around.
I did that a few weeks ago and was able to meet Ellis for the loop.
“Do you want to turn on Frederick,” he asked.
“No, I don’t want to turn on Frederick,” I hissed at him. “The route goes down to the bike path. I’m doing the traditional route.”
He just laughed. The traditional route had changed since I’d last come along, but he did it for me, anyway.
The group will do that. They’ll carry you when you need them to, sweep you along with them on the hard days. Someone will be there to push you when you need it, watch you look at them, return the glance, and then just go, as hard as you can until the bridge.
And on other days, what they can give you is something simpler: The knowledge that someone will be waiting for you. Always. That they’ll go the old route with you if it feels good. That they don’t mind you haven’t been there for a while, or you might have to walk. You might do all of it, and they’re just happy you’re there.
With that in mind, the 605 Running Co. is introducing pace team leaders for group runs once a month. We’ll highlight who those leaders are to help break down any barriers you might have to joining a group run. Here are two of the leaders.
Name: Yoko Hartland
Family: Husband, Todd; Two daughters, Erika and Andia; Two stepsons, John and Jake, and his wife Kaitlin.
Hometown: Hiroshima, Japan
Occupation: Coder at Avera Healthcare
First race: Deadwood Half-Marathon
Most recent race: Yellowstone Half-Marathon
Favorite race: Boston Marathon
Has a pacer ever helped you? Yes, most definitely. I ran with pacers almost every race, especially marathons. It really helps. From mile 20, I always run by myself and challenge myself to use all my energy.
How do you hope you can help runners by being a pacer? I would like to encourage and share my energy with runners. And make great memories.
What pace will you lead? 9:00/mile.
Best advice you've been given about running: No matter how tired you are or when you cramp during a race, if you see the photographers, make sure you smile. Also, when you run the hills, you have to tell yourself, "The hills are my friend." You are going to be fine.
Favorite movie: I like a lot of movies, except scary or bloody movies. My favorite classic movie is "Helen Keller." Always look for miracles, never give up.
Last place you traveled: Yellowstone, Wyo.
Name: Eva Gillham
Family: Husband, Andy; Sons, Lincoln, 3, and Beckett, 18 months; Dog, Sox
Hometown: Novato, Calif. (Thirty miles north of San Francisco.)
Occupation: Assistant director of research and analytics at ChanceLight Behavioral Health, Therapy, and Education; adjunct graduate professor at the University of the Rockies.
First race: Not sure on this one. My first road race was the 5K at the Novato Stampede when I was in 6th grade in 1996. I ran cross country and track in middle school.
Most recent race: Newton Hills Ultra, for one that I actually raced. I ran the Avera Race in May and the Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation 5K last week pushing my boys.
Favorite race: Around here I like the Newton Hills Trail run. Back home I really like the Dipsea. The staggered start times make it interesting and it's a tough trail race.
Has a pacer ever helped you? I haven't done many races with pacers. I have kept pacers in sight during marathons to help me know how I was running. That helped me stay consistent -- and actually negative split -- during the Sioux Falls Marathon last fall when I raced without training.
How do you hope you can help runners by being a pacer? I think being a pacer will help people hit their target workout paces on at least a few runs. That's much easier (or at least more enjoyable) to do when you run with someone. Having someone else worry about staying on pace will let the runners get more in-tune with their bodies and how the pace feels. So ideally they will learn to run at that pace by feel, sans watch. I also think it will help more people come to group runs. It's much less intimidating to show up when you don't know anyone if you can be sure that you will have someone to run with you at your pace and you won't be left behind or get lost.
What pace will you lead? Not sure on this one. I signed up to do anything from 7:30-9 minute pace (or faster). From my understanding there are multiple pacers for each group, so I think the pace I lead for each run will depend on who else is there.
Best advice you've been given about running: 1) You'll never regret a run. 2) Let your feet do the talking.
Last place you traveled: St. Louis, Mo.
The one food you have to have after a long run: My stomach doesn't handle food well after a long or fast paced run, so I'd say water or Gatorade if I'm feeling really dead, hot or tired. Watermelon is also amazing after a run on a hot day. Much later, ice cream is my favorite treat.
605 Running Company 2017 Group Pace Run Schedule
All pace group runs will take place on Saturday at 9am
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged