"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Recreating the racing community #2

[I keep rewriting this, because I make a circular argument. I'm hoping it pulls together later.]

Running is thought of as an individual sport, but it takes more than one person to have a race.

To create a new racing community, it will be necessary to bridge the gap between competitive racing teams and social running clubs. There is currently a team road racing circuit in Minnesota, the teams being largely centered around businesses and with members who only see each other at races. There are also a large number of social running groups, who meet to run together on a regular basis, but whose members, if they are preparing for races, are preparing for different races with a wide variety of goals. There are a few exceptions; the Team USA Minnesota men's and women's teams have members who train together often with the same goal (making Olympic teams) and there are two groups I know of consisting of men over 50 years old who compete in the local team circuit and who train together regularly. The Northern Minnesota Track Club was a competitive team in the 1980's, became a social club in the 1990's and now has a low-key presence on the state team circuit (where races are largely held 200 miles away from them) and has their own events in the Duluth area.

A club typically consists of 5-7 core members who train together because of proximity and shared interests, plus another 5-7 that are variable (often coming from a much larger pool of dozens). The core group meets regularly, generally weekly, for a fast social run. It is at these meetings that ideas on training get shared, plans for future races get consideration, camaraderie develops... and often a meal is had after the run [This allows the fastest runners in the group to interact with the slowest, if they get separated during the runs, which commonly happens]. Teams often have one dominant personality, usually someone experienced but past their racing prime, who decides when and where they'll meet and where, how far and how fast they'll run; sometimes this person is a coach.

It is the formation and retention of these clubs that is a critical factor in having a racing community. What is needed is a place on the internet for people to find possible training partners, based on where they train and how far and how fast they would want an organized club run to be. Currently, there are some teams registered with USATF-MN with contacts listed, but there needs to be a simple way for others to be created, without that formality. In the early days of racing, when you saw someone finishing close to you in race after race, you knew that they probably lived (or worked) near you and that you probably trained similarly; you'd strike up a conversation and usually you or the other racer were already in a club and you'd join forces - or become rivals (or both). Today, those who organize the teams that are competitive in the state race series recruit those who finish fastest at their races but are unattached; they do not, however, have much contact outside of the races.

The reason I think these club teams are necessary should become apparent in the next post.

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