Running is like shopping. Not because it is socially acceptable to run down the aisles of your local Costco at a 7 minute pace (although a small percentage of you with shopping phobias wish that were the case). Not because dodging other Black Friday bargain-hunters can feel like the first five minutes of a marathon. And not because glancing at your receipt after checkout conjures up similar feelings of either horror or relief as does looking at your watch when you cross the finish line.
No, running is like shopping because of the internal battle we all face when our friend, partner, or sweet 75 year-old neighbor asks us, “Would you like some company at the store today?”. We, as runners, are all faced with a similar dilemma throughout the entirety of our running careers. Do I run solo, or do I log my miles with a group? You most likely have some sort of leaning in one direction or the other. The question is – have you taken time to consider both sides?
You could say that this is where the shopping-and-running analogy begins to break down. Solo runners are often seeking solitude, time to think (or to not think), and a connection with nature…this is not often achieved by roaming store aisles. So, we can move on from that example. Bottom line – what should you take into account if you’re going to go at it alone?
Factors to Consider:
- Solitude. Running alone allows you to wrestle with your thoughts (scary!).
- Customization. You have the freedom to set your own pace, distance, and location for your run.
- Focus. Concentrating on your form and overall performance by reducing potential distractions.
- Flexibility. Got a packed schedule? Going solo allows you to run whenever you have a free block of time.
- Ruts. Being alone can slowly bring about a lack of variety. You don’t push yourself enough or you are always pushing too hard.
- Accountability. Yes, you are by yourself. Which means nobody would know if you decided to stop by Krispy Kreme on your run instead of completing your 10-mile goal.
At this point, it’s not difficult to guess what the potential benefits and drawbacks of group running may be. However, there are a few unique considerations that merit some discussion. I mean, how else is one to receive the instant gratification of hearing “nice shoes buddy”?
Factors to Consider:
- Balance. Running with others provides camaraderie, accountability, and variety. But don’t forget that personal reflection or decompression time could be lost.
- Follower. Maybe you are the primary decision-maker in your other roles, e.g. work, family, relationships. When you run, you don’t want to have to think about it; it’s finally time to escape! Running with others exposes you to new routes, products, paces, and styles of running. You just get to show up…and run.
- Competition. Who doesn’t like a good ol’ fashioned foot race? Studies have shown that performance times are improved when running with others. If you tend to be competitive with others, but not with yourself…this one’s for you.
- Relationships. Running friendships are unique relationships built upon hours of conversation and the experience of “suffering together”.
- Ability. Be sure to pay attention to how your body responds to the pace others are keeping. Are you constantly overworked or never challenged?
- Independence. If you are preparing for a race, will you be able to run as well alone on race day as you can with your training buddies?
The ‘House’s Thoughts
A poll of the employees here at Running Warehouse revealed a wide variety of preferences, thoughts and habits in regard to this subject, most of which relate to the points above. But there were several standout contributions that had not been previously considered. For one employee, running solo is less of a choice as it is a result of the long (really long) distances she regularly tackles. Did anyone run with Philippides, the Greek who ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver the message of victory over the Persians? I think not. But I bet he sure would have liked a buddy, and so would she every once in awhile. Another employee commented on running alone being less safe, an opinion resulting from an unfortunate encounter with some wildlife while out on the trails alone. And lastly, the untimely onset of necessary bodily functions have created unsavory experiences for those that have found themselves on a long run with a group. Details were omitted in the interview, and I’ll spare you as well.
Mix It Up
Here is where I invite you to consider all possibilities – the good, the bad, and everything in between. And not just to consider the other side, but try it out a time or two. If you’ve run by yourself for years, go on a run with a friend. See if it pushes you further or takes your mind off the pain. It may even help develop a deeper friendship. And if the thought of running by yourself makes you shudder…tackle the fear. Use the solitude as time to think, set a new time goal for yourself, or enjoy your surroundings. So don’t limit yourself. Remember that running is a joy, and a privilege, to be experienced in all of its forms.