Our running vacation season kicked off last week here at ZAP. After 2 years away it was wonderful to see familiar faces and have the chance to share a new experience with first timers. Our vacations are about scenic group running through the mountains and absorbing a ton of running education. However, 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 25 years of running the community is what I’ve enjoyed more than anything. But I know for many people running is personal time. It’s time to get away from everything and be in their own space. There are benefits to running alone and group running and striking that balance can be a challenge.
In the age of running selfies and 24/7 availability having 5 miles 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 it can’t 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 better with others. Running can be a great time to spend 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.
My experience in the running community reinforces the notion that runners are people worth spending time around. 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.
Most of the professional runners around the country train in groups. 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.
The motivation of group running can also help people push a little farther or a little faster than they would have by themselves. Many times those faster paces come without necessarily pushing harder in a group setting.
Group running can have the incredible power to reduce perceived exertion. When you’re focused on sticking with the group you’re thinking less about how hard the effort is. Paradoxically, this makes that effort feel easier. This can make harder efforts less taxing both physically and mentally. These are all reasons 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. The danger with that is preprogramming an easy day pace in your head.
Often the pace we decide should be our easy pace is based on our very best day. And rather than listening to our bodies we force that pace even on days we’re really tired and should run 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. With group running there is always someone that is going to feel good and push the pace. This makes it easy to get dragged along and run too fast. Several of ZAP athletes will often run by themselves on easy days when they need to run slower. If you can’t resist running with the group on days when you need to it may be best to let your thoughts be your only company on those days.
Balancing Solo & Group Running
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 group running. 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.