Overcoming My Night Running Fear

Just about every week, I get an email or Facebook message from Coach Cane or Mrs. Coach Cane.


On Thursday nights, Coach Cane holds group runs with his City Coach team. The group is stocked with world-class triathletes who win stuff all the time.

For an average-but-trying-to-get-faster runner such as myself, that’s a little intimidating.

But I recognize how lucky I am to have people like Coach Cane and Mrs. Coach Cane in my world. Run For The Rabbit ended months ago, but they’re both still willing to help me get better, stronger, faster and smarter. I would be stupid if I passed up these opportunities to train with them, right?

Even though I’m scared of running at night…and even though I know whenever I go to the group runs I will undoubtedly be the slowest in the bunch…

Yes, Ali. Man up.

I would say this is my "Manning Up" face, but really it's just another picture of me in hot pink and lime green.

I have run with the City Coach group twice before: The first time was during Hamptons Marathon training and I was psyched to see what team runs were all about.

But then there was the second time.

Oh, the second time.

That run was Day 1 of a very nasty Crohn’s flare-up. That run was bad. That run made me never want to run with other people again.

So it had been a while since I had accepted an invitation from Coach Cane to run with his people. I always found excuses: “I ran this morning, sorry!” “My stomach hurts.” “I’m going to yoga instead.” “I have to stay home and eat brownies. You understand, right? Eating brownies is basically the same as doing speedwork.”

Last night I made my return to the City Coach running group, and I loved it!

I wasn’t sure what to eat all day because night running really does continue to baffle me. When I left work around 5 pm, the last thing I wanted to do was go for a run. I wanted to go for a “lay down on the couch” instead.

The group runs start at the JackRabbit Sports Upper West Side store, so I slipped into my legwarmers (obviously if you’re training alongside the winners of various road races, you should dress in your most hardcore running gear) and jogged — slowly — 2.5 miles from my apartment to the store.

As the group started to assemble, I chatted with people.

I met one nice young woman, for example, who introduced herself as Deanna. She was very sweet and asked me how long I had known Coach Cane.

“Not too long,” I told her.

She asked me what I’m training for at the moment and I replied, “Nothing, actually. I’m still debating a spring marathon but I’m having a hard time deciding. What about you? Are you training for something right now?”

“Yes,” she told me. “I have a spring marathon coming up.”

“Oh! That’s exciting!” says innocent, naive Ali. “Which one?!”

She kind of mumbled something quietly and I couldn’t hear her response.

“Sorry, which one?” I had to ask.

“The Boston…The Boston Marathon.”

“Yup. I’ve heard of it.”

People trickled in, and they were all super nice and, from what I quickly gathered, very, very fast — and way way way too modest — runners. (Brag more, people! You’re all so impressive!)

Coach Cane arrived with this little guy in tow:

SIMON! You are the coolest kid I know.

He (Coach Cane, not Simon — Simon’s vocabulary is still somewhat limited) explained the night’s workout to us before kicking us out the door:

  • Warm-up jog from the store into Central Park and across the 72nd Street Transverse to the east side
  • Run a counter-clockwise lower loop of the park + an additional jaunt across the Transverse (2 miles total) at marathon goal pace (I was shooting for 8:45 here)
  • Jog back over the Transverse to recover, bringing you back to the east side again
  • Run the 4-mile loop of the park counter-clockwise at half marathon goal pace (7:50s would have been ideal for me here)
  • Cool-down jog back to the store

My legs weren’t super fresh going into last night’s run. I’ve put in some reasonably tough workouts this week and I’m definitely feeling it. But I still wanted to push myself and run hard.

I also didn’t want the group to have to wait hours for me at the end. So I had to at least try to run fast.

I ran the first loop not at marathon goal pace at all. I felt good, as I always do, and I was like, “Hey! I can keep up with some people in this group!”

Apparently I will never learn.

I was really worried about my stomach being weird, but it felt fine for a while.

It wasn’t until I finished the first pickup that I lost the group and, as I cruised up Cat Hill attempting my half marathon goal pace, my stomach freaked out. I had to come to an immediate stop halfway up the hill and stand there for a few seconds until my stomach settled.

But then I was fine. And then I ran.

The counter-clockwise loop has lots of downhill sections, so I obviously felt great on those. I didn’t quite hit my half marathon goal pace on average, but I’m not too beat up over it considering the other fast runs I’ve had this week.

All in due time.

As I brought up the rear and was the last person to assemble at the Transverse, everyone high fived me and told me I did a great job.

They are the nicest, most encouraging people ever.

We jogged back to the store and I chatted with a couple that lives in my neighborhood. I asked them what they’re training for and I guess I was mildly impressed or whatever.

First up for both of them: Boston Marathon.

Then the New York City Ironman.

No big deal. I offered to pace them in Boston. They didn’t seem to need my help though.

And then, after the run, we all got to hang out with Simon some more.

Look at that happy, speedy family!

In total, I covered 10 miles last night. My splits were all over the place, and I want to focus on becoming a more consistent runner this year. I tend to speed up and slow down way too much when I run in even mildly hilly areas, so there’s lots of room for improvement there.

The workout starts around mile four. Miles 10ish and 11 were the cool-down.

I’m proud of myself for again getting out of my comfort zone. I usually do everything I can to avoid running at night, and I was apprehensive about joining Coach Cane’s runners for their first team workout of the new year. Everyone was so great though, and they made me want to work even harder.

I can’t wait to train with them again.

Also, grammar.

I love this.

Today I challenge you all: Do something a little bit scary. Maybe you’re afraid of trying that spin class at your gym, or perhaps you’re afraid of eating an entire carton of ice cream for dinner tonight (don’t be, it’s a good idea, I assure you). Are you scared of walking underneath a ladder because it’s Friday the 13th? Don’t be! If you’re afraid of pushing yourself — really pushing yourself — when you run, I challenge you to pick up the pace, even if it’s just for 30 seconds.

I bet you’ll feel awesome afterward.

Let me know how it goes. Good luck!



47 Responses

  1. And I don’t know how you run in the morning every day? I want so badly to be a morning runner but every time I try I either fail altogether or suck it up. Great job running with the fasties! Hope you’re having a great weekend!

  2. Ali, congrats on overoming your fears! I admire you for always challenging yourself and working hard. I wanted to ask you about the JackRabbit runs. I signed up on their website and have been getting these emails for the weekly free group runs. They organize long run Sundays starting at their Upper West side store and do 8-10mile runs in Central Park. Is this similar to what you did? I want to join but i am wondering whether it would be a good idea since i am MUCH slower than what you call average runner (about 9:30mm pace). I appreciate any input. Thanks and keep it up!

    1. Thanks, Eliana!

      The JackRabbit runs are, from what I understand, casual and open to runners of all levels. The run I did with Coach Cane wasn’t a JackRabbit run, that’s just where the group meets. This run was specifically for the individual runners he coaches through his company. I was lucky enough to tag along. But the regular store-led runs are definitely shorter mileage, I think usually 3-5 miles? Try it out!

  3. My current grammar peeve – fewer and less are not used interchangeably. Supermarkets are notorious for this: 10 items or less is incorrect. 🙂

  4. I signed up for the NY Triathlon in 2013! This is crazy-scary to me. I don’t even know where to begin with that one….good thing we’re talking over a year away….

  5. I’ve always been nervous about group runs, mostly because I feel like I’ll need to talk to people while I’m running. I’m trying hard enough just to breathe! Also, I’m more of a jogger at the moment so, like you, I don’t want them to be waiting around for me to finish. Unlike you, I’d never be in the position to run with super competitive runners 🙂 I know a running group would be a good way for me to meet people and get to know my new city, maybe I just need to suck it up!

  6. I did intervals on Thursday! Does that count…even though your post came out on Friday?!?!?! I’ve always been afraid of speed, you know that heart bursting and gut busting etc business…but my training buddy aka coach wanted me to push thru the limits. It was tough but I got it done.

  7. 10 midweek miles at night = nice job!!

    Love the grammar peeves – I’m a English teacher. Can’t stand the inappropriate use of the word “literally” – “you literally at an entire cow? Wow. I’m pretty sure you should be about to burst right now or have a coronary or at least be in the Guinness Book of Records”. Loose/lose is another one that drives me bananas. So does “versing” i.e. when people say “who are we versing in soccer this week?”. I have heard other teachers at my school say that – it made me cranky. Ooh, ok. I’ll stop now. I love your blog and don’t want to infect it with negativity 🙂

  8. Your run sounds awesome. Congrats!

    When I read the last paragraph of your post, I read the ladder part (knocking on wood) and then saw “push” and thought you were going to say don’t be afraid to push the ladder over. I was terrified. I can read, I swear. Glad you were telling us to push OURSELVES, not the ladder.

  9. I am scared to do a spin class, but I’m signed up for a 6-week session of them starting on Tuesday. Take that “fear of doing a spin class”! BAM!

    I won’t deal with my fear of squishing spiders quite yet.

  10. Last night I ran a) at night and b) with people, and these things both scare me, so woohoo, challenge passed! So what if the challenge wasn’t issued till this morning? I’m psychic, obvs.

    Can I add another grammar peeve? Lead. Led. Two different words.

  11. Love the “eating brownies is basically the same as doing speedwork”! That seriously sounds like something I would say to myself!
    Also, I am very inspired by your goal to get out of your comfort zone. I have done two half marathons and my goal for this spring is to set a PR of under 2 hours. Then, in the fall, to run my first full marathon. I have this huge fear of running faster than my slow comfy pace (I have no idea why) and I definitely need to break out of that so to make it happen I have scheduled in some speedwork that I started doing last week.
    Colitis is my enemy and it is really nice to see a girl that is my age blog about the difficulties of having constant digestive issues. I found your post super inspiring and I am also totally jealous of your pace times!
    Good luck on your goals, you can definitely do it!
    Stacey 🙂

  12. Oh, snap. I know Deanna. She is freaking fast. I want to be her when I grow up. Also, I want her hair. Deanna–if you’re reading this, can you give me hair tips?

    Yay for successful night running! I have a similar problem–my evening runs always make my tummy go psycho, so I’ve started to avoid them at all costs. I need to turn that around, cause night runs are fun!

  13. Ahhh, love the pet peeves list. I love to use irregardless to annoy my editor boyfriend. I’d say than and then should be added to that list as well!

  14. My husband challenged me last night and we ran two miles at 8:40 pace (even split it actually). I thought I was going to die, but I didn’t!

    Great job getting out there and doing something a little different than normal!

  15. Running with that group sounds like such an awesome experience! I’m really great with you pet peeves when I print and proofread…I need to proofread more 🙂
    My current pet peeve is inserting “had” before a single verb, all the time. Past perfect has a place, and that place isn’t in every sentence.

  16. The literally thing drives me crazy and it’s something that I see on blogs a lot. Your legs were not literally on fire (not yours, you in general) or if they were, you have a serious problem!

  17. One more grammar pet peeve…

    “Impacted” does not mean that it affected you in a very profound way. It means that it slammed into you with force akin to a wrecking ball. A tooth can be impacted. Someone can be injured upon impact. But, “impact” is not used metaphorically, ever, ever, ever. If I see one more person write that they were greatly impacted by something, I am going to assume that their body was crushed and they are writing said statement from a hospital bed.

    Disclaimer: I’m cranky today. Day 3 of a juice cleanse. Blerg.

    On a positive note, Ali, girl, you are fast. Fo’ shizzle fast. It’s mile splits like the above that make me seriously think about training with a Garmin.

  18. I don’t know how one musters the energy to run at night. I am a morning runner or a ‘sit on the couch and eat’ runner…or, more frequently, an injured runner. Good for you for getting out there – I have such an inferiority complex when it comes to speed that I’d find it ridiculously intimidating to run with people much faster than me.

    Pet hate: people using ‘alas’ to express something positive directly following it (i.e ‘alas, I was almost as speedy as the super IronMan people’) I want to punch the wall whenever someone does that. Read ‘Hamlet,’ people. ‘Lose’ and ‘loose’ just make me stabby as well – there’s just no excuse for that kind of writing.


  19. Awesome! My splits sometimes look wonky like yours, it’s the damn hills i tell ya! Challenge accepted – hmmm… And thanks for the grammar education, I had to look up nonplus to see if I was wrong in its meaning and thankfully I had it right, phew!

  20. Great post, Ali! You’re so lucky to have people like Coach Cane & Mrs. Coach Cane in your life. You’ve inspired me to start doing planks, that is the fear I will overcome today!

  21. Re the grammar rules: yes, yes, a thousand times yes! GAH! Every single offense listed there drives me bat-sh*t crazy!
    Nice running with the Canes! Jealous. My foot needs to get the eff better. Have a great weekend, Ali!

  22. Your site is super-inspirational although I have the opposite problem – prying myself out of bed to get exercise is just impossible. I have a minor grammar peeve about the grammar peeves – ‘affect’ can be a noun, as in ‘The sociopath mimicked normal affect’ – a psychological term for display of emotion.

  23. This was such a great post. Tonight I’ve agreed to do abs work with my super strong super in shape friend, so I’m definitely scared for that. This was the motivation I needed!
    Also, you’re vs. your and it’s vs. its drives me up the wazoo! I’m glad other people share my grammer neurosis. 🙂

  24. I <3 the grammar pet peeves! I graduated with a Bachelors in English-Literature, and most of those mistakes mentioned drive me crazy. 😛 Thanks for posting them and, hopefully, enlightening people.

  25. Challenge accepted! I have a training run tonight and I will push myself to run more, walk less. I’ll set specific numbers this afternoon, I promise!

  26. How inspirational it must have been to run with those people! I know they’re normal people, too, but they always feel like superheros to me. haha Great job!

  27. This is totally awesome. I am way jealous (not going to lie) of your awesome workouts with Coach Cane & gang. Going to attempt my first ever central park run on sunday with a blogger buddy (NYCMamma) if you are interested. We are going to do 10 miles. if not, if you have any good suggestions on running in the park that would be awesome. congrats on a great run

    1. Fun! You’re going to love it! I am not sure what my running plans are for the weekend, but I definitely recommend running the main 6-mile loop of the park and then maybe heading up to do a lap of the Reservoir and/or the Bridle Path. You’ll get lots of great people (and puppy) watching!

      1. Hey! Sorry just saw this didn’t realize that it would not email reply. I was suppose to run with this other blogger and she can’t now. We r on our way into the city and I have no clue what I am doing. Any chance u r still game? Even for a few miles…

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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