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First week of January. Putting my three words to use. Tribe. I didn’t meet my running goals this week (which aren’t very rigorous) and decided I needed to expand my social support. My regular running partner is now pregnant and running isn’t much in her exercise repertoire. Occasionally a coworker squeezes in a run with me, but I need more support to keep me focused. A web search confirmed that the local running store has regular group runs. Reduce. In this case, fear. Not paralyzing fear, but a strong discomfort I have with just showing up unexpected…and alone…to any event for which I don’t quite know all the details. This weekend was the “Long Run” group. That’s all it said. No description other than “various paces and distances.” I’m not a seasoned runner, nor a marathon queen. What if I show up and the group is tightly bonded from having run several marathons…and they run a 6-minute mile…and they’re running 15 miles that day? Wildness. So I showed up at the designated place. 12 minutes early. No other runners in sight. I sat in a warm car, scanning the parking lot, tapping my foot and drinking green tea (hoping the natural caffeine would give me a speed boost). Finally, three other cars pull up. Three women get out. One younger than me, one about my age and one older.

The first woman, the youngest and presumably the fastest, asked me if I was there to run.

“Yes,” I said, knowing the next question.

“How far?” she asked.

“Six to eight miles would be good,” I said. I hadn’t run further than five in months, but five seemed too little for a “long run” and I knew I couldn’t bluff 10. She was going to run 10, but already had a route in mind that would circle back to the parking lot after six miles with an additional three- to four-mile option.

“How fast do you run?” she asked. This is the worst question. Like a golfer being asked if they’re good and then, after saying yes, being pressed for their handicap. I could’ve lied…but a minute in and the gig would be up, so I answered with optimistic honesty.

“Oh…between 9:30 and 10:00,” I said, “not that fast,” waiting for the awkward exchange about her much faster pace.

“That’s perfect,” she said. Really? I mean…seriously? Way cool. The other ladies were going 10 and (get this) 20 miles (from the oldest)! They were running about a 12-minute mile, which would have been fine for trying a much longer distance, but they were going way out of town with no loop back. So, the first woman and I ran through campus, past an old “castle” I didn’t know existed, through some neighborhoods and back. I learned about her experiences studying as a marine biologist, working off the cost of Hawaii doing research and pulling up huge masses of fishing nets that had been cut by commercial fisherman, tangled with other nets and were hazards for the marine life. She also talked about time she spent in Australia and New Zealand and how she is pursuing her Ph.D here now. (You can tell who had the breath to carry a conversation!) It was an interesting run…much better than huffing it in the cold around my same old route and cursing the hills alone.

She’s leaving this week for another study abroad…which means that next weekend she won’t be a familiar face in the parking lot. But she told me about a couple of other group runs that might work for me. I enjoyed it a lot. The change of scenery, the company and pushing myself into 2010 doing something a little out of my norm. Granted, this is not the extent to which I envision “wildness, tribe, reduce.” But there are many ways, small and large, to explore these themes and it felt good to get started.