Monday, August 11, 2008

Joe bitching about DC Fit

Ok, so after going back and forth on the group for the last 4 months, it's pretty much decided that DC Fit didn't quite do it for me. I know that I've got about 2 months left until my race, but there's not really much left that the group is going to offer me, so I figured I'd offer some of my thoughts about it up.

First off, let me say, esp to those who spoke well of the group, I can see how this organization could offer a good service. The idea that a group is dedicated to helping first timers make it through their first marathon is admirable, and in my (perhaps limited) searching for a group like this in the DC area, I didn't see too many alternatives in this niche market. Some of the local running groups had marathon training programs, but were more aimed at intermediate or higher runners (i.e. for a program starting in June, training for MCM, they recommend a strong 10 mile base run). I also liked that DC Fit would let me just run for myself, and not have to worry about raising money for a charity, which, while also admirable, isn't something I felt like doing. So please, if you did the program previously, enjoyed it, and recommended it when I asked about it back in April, don't feel bad. I believe that it has the potential to be a good program. Unfortunately, it can only be as good as its leadership. And that's where I think we ran into trouble this year.

The director just doesn''t seem to care very much about the runners in the group. He doesn't show up to all the runs (I don't expect anyone to commit every single weekend for 6 straight months to the program, but when he wasn't there, it seems like he didn't tell any of the other coaches, so he was just MIA). When he did show up, he didn't run with us with any regularity. While all the other coaches ran with the group on our Saturday morning long runs, he would do whatever he felt like. Let me tell you, it's more than a little discouraging to have to run 12 miles, get back to the start line to see that the director showed up late, is just chilling, and when someone asks him if he ran the 12, he says, "Oh, of course not." Yeah, great leadership.

As we're training in DC in the summer, there has been ample concern on the part of the runners for the weather. At, say, 8 a.m. (approximately half way through a long run for the 7 a.m. start group), it's not a stretch for it to be 85 degrees and high humidity. So running on a trail that goes east-west, with absolutely no shade, sucks. It sucks a lot. Runners start to voice their concern to the coaches, the coaches bring it to the director. It just doesn't seem very motivational when word leaks back down that his response was, "We're not here to coddle them. They need to toughen up. We can talk about changing it up once we get to long runs, 17 miles and up." (for those keeping track, there are exactly 3 runs of distance 17 miles or longer in the DC Fit schedule) For this group of runners, a large percentage of whom have probably never run more than 13 miles, with a decent number never even doing that, before starting with the program, that just sounds so condescending and insulting. There are more than a handful of people who have taken to skipping the group runs to run in small groups or by themselves at other times or at other locations, so as to not suffer the route they force us to do week after week (in a 6 month training program, there are going to be 3 weeks that we don't run the same stretch of the W&OD trail).

I've yet to figure out what my $115 went to, because the trails we run on are free to use for everyone and there are no water or snack stations during long runs (we do run past multiple Team in Training water and snack stations on the trails, as well as those of other training groups, such as the Triathlon group who was training down where we were this past weekend). We're supposed to get shirts, but it's been 4 months since we've started and there's no word on if/when they're arriving. There's a picnic this weekend. So I guess maybe $20 for the shirt and the other $95 in hamburgers and hot dogs (the only food the group is providing, as they're asking people coming to bring everything else from plates/utensils to drinks, sides, desserts, etc). I'll make sure I'm extra hungry.

Now, there have been some good things I've gotten from the program. It was nice to have a schedule laid out that we could take, talk over with the coaches, change if necessary, etc. It was also nice to meet other runners in the area who had similar goals than you, and most people I know seemed to find at least 1 or 2 people who run at a similar pace to them. Also, I've been dating someone from the group for about the last month, which has been a very nice surprise. But those things notwithstanding, I've been pretty disappointed.

All things being equal, with the information I had at the time, I'd sign up for a group like this again. As I said, I see the value this type of program can offer, specifically trying to help first timers achieve this lofty goal. But, leadership is everything, and when that's lacking, the program isn't going to be very good. The rumor mill has it that many, if not all, of the coaches will not be returning, as they're frustrated with the situation as well. That, I think, speaks volumes.

1 comment:

Megan said...

Joe- I think you are completely justified in your complaints.

Having run with the Chicago Area Runner's Association marathon training group for the last several years, I can tell you that the importance of a knowledgable, consistent and supportive coach is invaluable to the experience and safety of marathon training. For first timers, both the physical and emotional toll of such huge distances needs a leader to help manage those expreince. The absence of one for your team is unacceptable, if not dangerous with this mileage in this weather. Where is the guidance? The advice? The person who can tell you, "Hey, listen you're overdoing it - have a seat and take some water - it's okay."

And speaking of - no aid stations? That's BS, because here, that's part of the training fee.

I am sorry that you have had such a bad experience. Marathon training should be full of excitement and pride as you conquer new heights in your running. I know you can pull this off on your own, even if it means you might be accompanied only by an iPod. But you will do it - and we'll see ya over here in October.