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Is Group Running for You?

Find out if you are a lone wolf or belong in a pack

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

African proverb

My coach used to always remind me and my teammates of this African proverb. And I’d think:

Sure. But what if I want to go slow. Then go fast. Then stop to look at birds? I can’t be the only temperamental runner out there. 

Finding the perfect running partner is a journey. Here are the pros and cons of group running vs. solo training–and why you might just need a little of both.

You are your most capable coach and worst critic.

Running alone gives us the gift of getting in tune with our bodies. Even if we don’t really want to pay attention to how we feel, our bodies demand that we listen to every niggle and cramp and ache each step of the way. Running also helps us tap into that sense of joy and freedom. When we aren’t distracted, running connects us with ourselves, gives us quiet space in our heads, and is increasingly shown to help us work through complicated mental health issues

solo runner smiling in nature
Running outdoors has significant mental health benefits

As your bodies’ most personal and accurate representative, you get to call the shots. Sometimes a solid run just isn’t in the cards. Your nutrition, hydration, sleep cycle, shoes, the weather–everything, may be primed for a perfect run, and you still just aren’t feeling it. And you are the only one who knows when you need to stop.

However,

Any long-time runner knows there is an important distinction between listening to your body’s needs and listening to your inner critic– that voice telling you not to get out of bed, that you don’t have time today, that you’re too tired for a run. 

And having a running buddy (or running group) helps shut down this inner critic. A workout partner offers incredible accountability to show up when you say you will and motivation to keep going even when it hurts. Your squad will push you to do one more rep, encourage you when you are about to give up, and celebrate your successes with you. 

There is strength in the pack . . . but watch out for the bandwagon effect 

Group running can be a huge motivator. Like a team of sled dogs racing the Iditarod, running with a pack can be the most empowering high, push you to greater feats of endurance, and build a bond that only runners feel with one another.

Or . . . You get dragged along at an unsustainable pace and feel as exhausted as this pooch:

Don’t get dragged along at a pace that isn’t good for you

I remember one fall tempo run when I was training with a team. Our coach had us practice pack-running. Every mile, two runners from the back of the pack would pull up to the front and set the pace. We pushed each other, leaned on each other, and flew down that bike trail in perfect pack formation. It’s still one of the fastest training runs I’ve ever had. We were high on running and it felt incredible.

But then the next day we did the same thing. And the next. Each day was a race against ourselves and each other. We all fell prey to the over-competitive bandwagon effect and eventually burned out like fireworks hitting water,

Pack running can push us to our greatest achievements. When we run with others we feel like we are a part of something big, like an unstoppable force that helps us tap into our unrecognized potential. But, when the competitive spirit is left unchecked, it can leave us struggling to keep up and heading straight toward burnout.

When you find a group of runners who can push you out of your comfort zone, be sure to set boundaries for yourself. Know your limits. Know when you need a day to recover. And be honest about how you feel. Running in a group can feel intimidating, but every runner is human and needs those easy recovery runs and days off.

Finding a group to run with similar goals, pace, and a training plan will help you keep with the same cadence. And if you’re not feeling it, pump the brakes and set your own pace.

Some runners need that time alone, others need a push to get out there

And most of us need a bit of both.

I’ve been a long-time admirer of the elite runner, Ben True, nicknamed the Lone Wolf. He spent year after year training alone in the dense New Hampshire forests only to appear seemingly out of thin air and kick everyone’s butts on race day. Saucony made this thoughtful short film about him where he explains that he tried running with a pack but solo running was healthier and better for his training.

“Everyone thinks I could do better if I had a running group. . . but that’s not true.”

Some runners train better alone. And that’s ok.

For a number of us, working out provides that much-needed space to get away from the furious pace of our lives. It’s the alone time that introverts and extroverts alike need to reset and get back to the essentials–moving, breathing, listening. 

But for others, pack running gives us a social outlet and team camaraderie. Running is a social lubricant. It isn’t possible to go for a run with someone new and still be strangers by the end. If you’re looking to make new friends and meet people, pack running is an excellent social activity. 

group of runners laughing together
Group accountability can take you faster and farther

Like most things, the answer isn’t clear-cut. Sometimes training is as mercurial as the weather. You may be able to push it hard one day but need to walk up a hill the next day. One day you might want someone to chat with, another day you might need some alone time to process. There are pros and cons to running by yourself or running with a pack. 

Ultimately, you are your best representative for what you need, so it will be up to you to determine when you need to run alone and when a running partner will be just the boost you need to get out there and keep going.

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Rachel Cheney is a writer, runner, and mushroom enthusiast. She ran competitively before realizing that it’s way more fun to jog around in the woods and take pictures. She, her partner, and their Australian Shepherd, enjoy discovering new trails and climbing on rocks.

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