Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Scout Running Club - my inaugural run

I have trained alone my entire running career because I enjoy the personal time.  However, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I had heard countless testimonials on how fun it was to run with a group.  After hearing about The Scout Running Club with its free Tuesday night 5K runs, free food, and giveaways, I gave it a go this evening. 

I was looking forward to meeting other runners, and I was definitely ready for a change of scenery from my usual routes spanning the West Loop.  The route that the group run takes affords spectacular views of the Chicago city skyline.  The weather was beautiful, too - temps in the upper 50s, no wind.  Perfect night for a run.
Things went downhill from that point.  When I arrived at the meeting place (a bar/restaurant), it was mobbed with runners standing around in tight groups talking.  However, there were no signs directing where to register or anything.  I tried to work my way through the crowd to see if there was a line of people anywhere, or if there was a registration table.  Nothing.  Finally, after a few minutes of looking around, someone asked me if I needed to register and pointed me to a table with a sign-in sheet.  I asked if there was a place to store gear, and he pointed me to a back room.  I signed in as quickly as I could, frantically pushed through the crowd to drop off my gear, then searched for a bathroom.

I had arrived at about 6:20, with the group run departing at 6:30.  But since it took me so long to figure out where to sign in, I missed some leader announcements while I was in the bathroom.  I came out and saw the same scene of people standing around in groups, so I thought perhaps the group run hadn't left yet.  It seemed like everyone already knew each other and that all were engrossed in conversation.  I figured we'd be leaving momentarily so I waited awkwardly off to the side.  I eventually asked someone what the announcement was that I missed.  Turns out they had announced that the slower pace groups were getting started, and the faster pace groups would start in subsequent waves.

The pace group I wanted to run with was long gone by then, so I went with the next departing group.  Unfortunately it was a pace group that was a good 2 minutes per mile faster than me, but I didn't have much choice at that point.  Sadly, this was pretty much my worst case scenario.  Since I'm a pretty slow runner, my biggest concern with group runs is that I will get left behind.  Sure enough, as soon as the group started, I fell behind in a cloud of dust.
I tried my best to keep the group within sight, but by my standards they were motoring.  Soon I was running completely by myself.  Thankfully, I know the path very well so at least I didn't have to worry about getting lost.  I always listen to music when I run, but since I thought I would be running with a group I had left my MP3 player behind.  The silence was deafening and I was wishing that I had my headphones to keep me entertained.
The faster pace groups that had departed after me started catching up to me.  Runners began effortlessly passing me left and right.  It was discouraging.  Some of them shouted, "Good job, keep it up!" to me as they whizzed past me.  It was very nice of them to cheer me on, but it is still disheartening to get passed by entire crowds of runners.

I ended up running almost the entire 5K by myself.  After finishing, I went back to the bar/restaurant where they had salad, pasta, and water for us.  After waiting in a long line to get food, I came back out to find that every single table was completely full and there was no place to sit.  Again it seemed like every table was jammed with people that already knew each other.  I made a few circles looking for a place to sit or a table to join, but there was literally nothing.  Again feeling awkward, I found a few square feet of empty space and ate standing up.  I wasn't in the mood to try to break into one of the tables of people to try to introduce myself and make conversation.  Certainly nobody seemed interested in trying to draw me into any of their conversations, either.  At that point, I decided to leave.
I realize that I might have had a better experience had I been able to run with an appropriate pace group.  However, in general, I did not find the crowd to be very welcoming to new folks.  It didn't seem like anyone was really interested in meeting new people - it seemed like most people were there to hang out with a group of existing friends.  The awkwardness factor was obviously upped by the fact that I was there by myself.  Maybe if I went with a friend it would have helped.

Additionally, I didn't like how the slower pace groups started first.  In races, the faster pace groups always go first so that there isn't congestion on the course or at the post-race food lines.  Having the faster pace groups start last resulted in lots of passing and a long line for food.  Admittedly, there probably would have been a long line regardless, since there were so many people there.  Either way, though, it wasn't fun when there wasn't even enough room for me to find a place to sit, let alone the dozens of people that had been standing in line behind me.
In summary, while I did not have the best experience tonight, I am still glad that I pushed myself to try this running club.  It was neat to be surrounded by so many runners in a training setting, versus a race setting.  It was also enjoyable to be able to run such a scenic route along the lakefront path.  However, since I didn't find the crowd to be very open for newcomers and I didn't enjoy the post-run gathering, I am not very enthused about participating again.  At this point I don't intend to go back.


  1. 1. I'm so sorry that the running club was such a bust and that the people weren't welcoming.

    2. I'm really impressed that you stuck it out as long as you did. I would have left as soon as I couldn't find the sign-in table, or as soon as I realized my pace group left without me, or as soon as I saw there was nowhere to sit and eat. High five for sticking it out!*

    1. Amy, thank you so much for being so understanding - I really appreciate it!!!

  2. :(

    I am so disappointed for you - you lived through exactly what I was afraid of when I first joined my running club!

    I hope that you find another warmer club to join - it really is nice to have a crew of people out together even if our paces don't all match.

    1. Thanks, Bobbi - the empathy and understanding is much appreciated!

  3. What a total bummer! I agree with Bobbi, this is exactly why it took me a year and a half to get up the courage to check out a group run! Luckily my first experience (and every one since) has been very positive! If you're still interested in finding a group to run with, I could suggest checking out another group. There are so many running groups out there, I'm sure you can find one that is a much better fit for you (and friendlier). I found that getting in touch with the group online beforehand (in my case via Facebook) made my initial first run a lot better. Of course the group I run with sounds MUCH smaller. Good luck!

    1. Thanks so much, Maggie! Great advice. I do eventually plan on checking out another smaller group and getting in touch with them in ADVANCE. =D

  4. Hey Em, bummer that the first time trying out the running club was so awkward! Huge props for sticking it out...as Amy said, I would've left when I realized my level group was already gone. It just goes to show how dynamic and a fighter you are for sticking it out! At least now you know that you tried it instead of wondering "what if." I'm sure you'll have better luck with the next running group you try!!

    1. V, thanks so much for the pep talk and the encouragement! Yes, there really is a feeling of closure from actually knowing instead of always wondering what if. Appreciate the understanding, as always!!!

  5. Hi Em, my name is Dave Lee and I'm the founder of this club (along with 9 other free social running clubs across the country) My clubs were started to simply promote a stronger culture of "Fitness, Fun, and Philanthropy" one community at a time. and everything we do is done through volunteer officers and amazing sponsors who believe in our mission.

    I'm really disheartened to learn of your experience at The Scout. This is one of the fastest growing clubs that we have in the country and it's because "most" of our runners have actually had great experiences in meeting other runners and they keep coming back with more of their friends.

    Despite your first encounter, I would really encourage you to go back again. Hopefully, you can meet up with the right pace group and make new friends. When you arrive please ask for Allen who is the lead organizer. I'm certain he will make sure you meet a lot of wonderful people.

    With the incredible growth of this club, it might seem a bit overwhelming with such a large crowd, but I am certain you will meet a lot of incredible people.

    This club is intended specifically for people like you and for runners of all levels. A "traditional" running club is structured a little bit more for people with specific running and racing goes, (which is great). But my concept for a free "social" running club was really to get more people engaged not only in running, but in meeting other fitness minded people and working together to raise money and awareness for local non-profit organizations that are meaningful to them in that particular community.

    We all know that running can change a person's life, but I believe bringing a community together through running can ultimately change the world.

    Keep on running!


    1. Dave - thanks for reaching out! I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my thoughts. I will try to go back again at some point in the future, and will be ready to depart with my own pace group!

  6. Em-
    I stumbled upon your page randomly, but I have been running with the club for a little over a year now, and I am sorry for your bad first experience! I agree that it can seem like everyone knows each other, but I assure you that's NOT the case. I feel like I run with new people every week, and there are constantly people of all pace groups joining. I really hope you come out and run with us again!

    On Saturdays at 8:30am, we run 6 miles, and it's always a smaller group (10-20 people). Please consider coming tomorrow! We meet at FFC.