A Special Running Group Dynamic
By Sheryl Rosen,
Some Gulf Winders run for fitness. Some run to pound away stress, some to challenge themselves, and others to meet new people and have fun. Whatever the reason, the camaraderie of running buddies is undeniably an added benefit many find along the way.
Most training groups in our club or elsewhere have a personality and comradeship all their own. However, a special dynamic arises when groups happen to be all of one gender. The group members become more relaxed and everything becomes fair game for open discussion, especially chatter of dreams, problems and relationships.
Perhaps runners simply feel more comfortable talking about such personal topics with fellow men or women. Perhaps people subconsciously let their guard down with runners of their gender. Whatever the reason, the truth is that if a man could be a fly on the wall during a women’s group run, he could hear a very different conversation than if the group were blended. (While I cannot attest to the reverse, I strongly suspect it is so.)
This month’s book, Sole Sisters: Stories of Women and Running by Jennifer Lin and Susan Warner, explores the special openness and solidarity female running friends enjoy. The book is a compilation of stories about very diverse women – from a Cheyenne girl to a running nun to the Ndereba sisters – and the different relationships they have to the sport and with other women.
Lin and Warner chose interesting women to profile, but they also succeeded in exemplifying the emotional connection the women have to their female running friends. The importance of that connection in the lives of the women described is not secondary but the point of each story.
One such story is that of the centipede runners. Each year, thirteen women from a California running club strap themselves together with bungee cords and run the 7.4-mile Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco. While training during the year, the team leader notes the women “solve all the world’s problems on the warm-up and cool-down” and have a special bond that connects them even when the bungee cords are removed. They share a group dynamic that includes both the camaraderie of female friends and teamwork akin to that of a boat of rowers who must stay in synch. Not only do the centipede runners use teamwork and strategy to run well, but they also do so at a six-minute-per-mile pace.
Another story is that of a St. Louis woman who, when faced with divorce, turned to running and to a ladies’ running group. She sought others to keep her company during runs and found therapy in motion. With the edict that everything the women share stays between them, they find comfort in venting their frustrations or thinking out loud. The group members describe a feeling of safety knowing they can always find a patient ear or generous support from the others. The runs are their way of clearing their minds of worry while lifting the spirits of the group as a whole.
With 19 additional stories on 136 small pages, some of the brief chapters could have used greater detail. However, each story has its own twist and offers a beautiful look inside the connections female runners share. The women profiled have different manifestations, but all of the runners have a cherished connection to their running friends of the same gender – a wonderful byproduct no matter your gender or the reason you run.