Hah. As if.
Apparently more people were running in the six mile group today than they'd planned for; I arrived slightly late (people were already warming up), and all the little slips of paper with directions for the route were gone. One of the girls wrangling all the runners told me that Jan (the LLA running ambassador who leads the warm ups) would be leading the six mile group this time, and that I could just follow her.
Having no better solution to offer, I jumped into the last bit of warm ups with the other runners, paying careful attention to Jan and making sure to memorize every last detail of her appearance and clothing. (I got hopelessly lost the last time I ran with the Lemon Club, and that was WITH the little directions paper.) Then the group took off and I plastered myself to Jan's side; I went to work memorizing as many running outfits of people in the group as I could manage (spiky magenta hair guy, mint-green tech shirt girl, Texas flag shorts guy, blue & white tech shirt guy...).
The route was pretty flat and even had some downhill stretches during the first mile, so it didn't shock me that we started out at a pretty good clip (I'm not sure this map is 100% accurate, but it's pretty close). Then, when we'd been going for a while and no one had made any move to slow down, it occurred to me that these guys very well may have fully intended to set a blistering pace from the get-go. I'd glanced at my Garmin at one point and it read 6:40; that didn't worry me too much because that number can fluctuate wildly at times, and we'd have several good downhills. But when I looked again and it said 6:30, then 6:35, then 6:25, I realized that, yes, we were actually going stupid fast for a casual six-mile run.
Honestly, I didn't need to run that fast. I'd just done a tempo run Tuesday, had nothing to prove, and would've been quite happy to just jog along at an 8:30 pace; again, though, I didn't have a directions paper and hadn't had time to memorize the map inside the store before the run, so I kind of DID need to run that fast if I didn't want to get lost.
After mile two, the leaders slowed the pace a little so that we were vacillating more between 6:50 and 7:10. Even so, that's basically 5K pace for me, ie, as fast as I can possibly run, if I only have to run three miles. We had four left to go, not to mention that I'd already run about two miles at around a 6:45 pace. You can see why I was becoming a bit concerned. Oh well, I figured, If I lose them, I'll just jog around randomly until I hit six miles. That's honest, right?
I let the front runners drift a little ways ahead of me, just so that I could still see them, and shamelessly cut corners in an effort to keep a -slightly- more appropriate pace for the type of run I'd wanted (but not really). Just behind me, I could hear several other runners gasping for breath and really struggling to try to keep up with the front runners. No, I didn't want to run seven minute miles, but at least I was capable of it (for a little while longer, at least). I could tell these guys were probably not going to last much longer. Part of me just wanted to jog over and be like, "Oh, pardon me, do you happen to have a directions slip? How about we just run 8:30 miles together & call it good?" If I slowed down and they didn't have slips, though, we'd all be screwed. So I fixed my eyes on Jan, a good hundred yards ahead of me now, and just tried to stay at about that distance.
Not long after we passed the ballpark (maybe 3 miles in), I saw Jan stop to stretch a calf while the rest of the speedy mcspeedersons continued on. When I caught up to her she fell in beside me, and we chatted for a while (including how this was basically race pace for me and I hadn't intended to run this fast today) and ran together at a slightly slower (7:35-7:45ish pace). I was pretty sure she'd stopped to stretch so that I could catch up with her; the struggling runners behind me had disappeared at this point, and I wondered briefly what had happened to them.
I started to settle into that pace pretty comfortably and held it more or less for the rest of the run. The front runners had apparently caught a few traffic lights so we ended up catching back up to them after another mile or so. When we got back to LLA, I was really curious to check my Garmin & see just what kind of time we'd been keeping (I'd had it set to quarter mile auto laps during my tempo run Tuesday and forgotten to change it back to miles before this run, so that was less than helpful), but when we got back I found that I'd clearly made some sort of stop / start mistake somewhere so my pace info for the second half of the run was mostly unusable. Alas.
So. This was kind of a weird experience. I left with a few musings:
Musing #1: I think this is part of why I usually avoid running with groups. It's very important to me to feel in control of my own run and my own pace, and not feel like I have to match someone else's pace, particularly if that's not the run I want to do that day. It can feel very stressful and that is the last thing I need running to be. On the other hand...
Musing #2: I had such a hard time holding a 7:45-46 mile during my tempo run on Tuesday, but on the Lemon Club Run, I found that I was actually holding a slightly faster pace on average, and while it was harder than the pace I'd planned to run, it really didn't feel all THAT hard. So it seems there's definitely something to being pushed by people around you in terms of what you think you're capable of.
Musing #3: I think I ran an unofficial 5K PR yesterday. And I wasn't even working that hard. Again, with being pushed to a faster pace than you're really comfortable with versus holding yourself to a certain number during a race because "this is my (whatever distance) pace." I've done a lot of training since the last time I raced a 5K, so maybe my pace is actually faster than I think it is. Maybe I should try to get a race in sometime this fall, just to see.
Musing #4: The leaders on this run were clearly part of the LLA "in-crowd" and all knew each other. As with any in-crowd or clique, I felt it was a little unfortunate that they didn't make much effort to introduce themselves to the folks who were new to the group or bring them in in any way. I worry a little about how this, combined with the blistering pace (and no warning about it), may alienate newcomers, especially if they want to run a slower pace. If I run with this group again, I kind of feel inclined before we take off to be like, "Who wants to run six miles slow? Come run with me!," just so that people who want to do that feel they have a place, and not like they need to run seven minute miles if they're going to run with this group.
So yeah. I have a feeling I'll keep going (for yoga, also, though I couldn't stay for it yesterday), but I will either a) plan these days as tempo runs so that I'm mentally prepared for how hard I'm going to have to work to keep up, or b) set myself up as Queen of the Chill Six-Milers (and be sure to arrive early enough to get a directions). Again...the jury's still out, but I'm still in for now.