Adult running camp season kicks off this month at ZAP bringing familiar faces and the chance to share a new experience with first time campers. Camp is about scenic runs through the mountains, yoga, learning training theory and nutrition among other things, but the true uniqueness is the community that is built between attendees within a few short days. More than anything else, it is the community that brings people back year after year. In my 20 years as a runner the running community is what I’ve enjoyed more than anything. However, I know for many people running is personal time, time to get away from everything and be in their own space. There are benefits to running alone and running with a group and striking that balance can be a challenge.
In the age of running selfies and 24/7 availability having 5 miles on the road or trail to yourself can be a welcome change of pace. As technology makes our lives busier and shortens our attention spans we rarely have unplugged time alone. Admittedly I am as guilty as anyone, and more recently I’ve enjoyed running by myself more than ever. Typically I’m more of a social runner, but having 30 or 40 minutes where life is simplified to putting one foot in front of the other allows my mind to wander in a way I rarely allow it with a smart-phone glued to my hand. Disconnecting allows you to connect to yourself the same way leaving the phone in the car at dinner allows you to connect with others. Running can be a great time to spend some time unwinding and relaxing, and it can be powerful to have that alone time, especially if you otherwise wouldn’t have it.
The other side of that coin is the power of running with others. I’ve met most of my favorite people in the world through running, and the time I’ve spent running with friends is part of what makes those bonds so strong. Brewery runs and Saturday morning group runs are popular for the same reason, and my experience in the running community tells me runners are people worth making the effort to spend time with. Joining a local running group is a great way to meet new people, but there are also a number of benefits group running can bring to your running performance.
Having running partners adds a level of accountability that is difficult to achieve otherwise. And the truth is everyone has those days where you don’t feel like getting up before work and getting your run in. If you know someone else is counting on you you’re more likely to roll out of bed than slap the snooze button and get in those extra miles that will make all the difference in your next race.
Many of the professional runners around the country train in groups, and the accountability is part of the reason. When people get together with a shared purpose it can help everyone rise a little higher. When someone is feeling down the group has the ability to pick them up, including on days where a hard workout is on the schedule. The motivation of being in a group environment can help people push a little farther or a little faster than they would have by themselves. This is true even of professionals, which is a big reason so many of our country’s best runners train with each other rather than alone.
Having someone to push you when you need it can be invaluable in elevating your race performances, but even more important than that is the process of recovery between those harder days. GPS watches have made us acutely aware of our exact pace on every run all the time, and the danger with that is preprogramming an easy day pace in your head. Often times the pace we decide should be our easy pace is based on our best day when we’re feeling great. Then rather than listening to our bodies we force that pace even on days we’re really tired and should be running slower to properly recover. Finding a training partner that typically runs a little slower than you and forgetting the watch can be a great way to recover on your easy days. You should be able to hold a relaxed conversation on your easy days without gasping for breath, and chatting with someone on the run is the perfect way to ensure you’re keeping the pace easy.
For others running alone may be the best way to ensure proper recovery on easy days. The benefit of having someone there to push you in a group can backfire when it comes to recovery. In a group setting there is always someone that is going to feel good and push the pace and it’s easy to dragged along and run too fast. Several of our professional athletes here at ZAP will often split off and run by themselves on easy days when they know they need to run a little bit slower.
If you can’t resist running with the group on days where you need to run a little slower it may be best to let your thoughts be your only company on those days. Running serves a different purpose in all of our lives and those purposes may change day-to-day or week-to-week. Knowing what you need and when you need it is helpful in determining the balance between running alone and with a group, but being open to both is an important piece of maximizing your experience. Whether you need some time to yourself or the accountability of a running partner to get out the door, being open to and understanding what those different experiences bring to the table can enhance your running, both physically and emotionally.
*This Article Originally Appeared in the September 2016 Issue of Running Journal