Running tends to be a very individual sport. Like all endurance athletes, runners can train with others, but will compete alone. There is always a clear winner in a race. “I ran faster than you, therefore I beat you.”
I suppose that is what drew me to running in school, and the reason I’m still running and competing twelve years later. I satisfy my competitive side, my introversion, and my practical and straightforward personality all in one activity (not to mention the physical health benefits). But as much as I love the independence, I know I can only improve so much without the encouragement, support, and push from others.
Consistently running with others has countless undeniable benefits. The following are my favorites:
- Safety in numbers: Two or more runners are more intimidating to psychos, and they also ensure that everyone is accounted for throughout the run. The Buddy System for adults! *This is the most important of my favorite benefits.
- Not-so-idle chatter: Runners are amazing people, and tend to have great conversations. (I am completely unbiased.) Miles fly by when you have more to concentrate on than your bothersome knee pain or how hard the wind is blowing. The beauty of a running partner or two is that running may be the only thing you have in common. Birthplace, religious views, political views, daytime job, diet, age, and marital status may all be different, which provides a variety answers to, “How was your day,” as well as different perspectives on current issues. (But mostly we just talk about running.)
- Lessons in listening: Because of these great conversations, many runners can be long-winded. Letting yourself listen to one person’s mid-run stream of consciousness, or the back-and-forth banter of a group, is an amazing lesson in humility. With no distractions, you learn a lot about your partner(s) and a bit about yourself.
- Training a little faster (or slower!): Being Zen Runner will only get you so far and so fast. Even if speed is not your goal, amping up your training a day or two a week will make your Zen runs feel easier and pleasant. The same applies to reeling in your pace to give your body a break. Like my friend Dixon says, “Let your body absorb the training.”
- Actually stretching: When was the last time you stretched after a solo run? Never?! Me neither. Because conversation doesn’t typically end at the stop of a watch, runners tend to hang out for at least a few minutes. This hang-out usually includes some seemingly mindless post-run stretching as chatter wraps up and the group prepares to re-enter reality. Check plus!
- Establishing a routine: Tuesday evening was the first of our Spring Speed Workouts and a club member, Andy, said a crazy year at work caused him to run less and lose his fitness level. Now Andy is getting back into the swing of things and said he will be using the club runs to establish a running routine. Like Andy, work schedule permitting, no matter the weather, fatigue, or just plain laziness, you’re more likely to move your butt out the door if you’re meeting someone for an established and regular run.
- Someone who will join you for a post-run beer, any time of day: Enough said.
- Disturbingly close friendships: On top of what you can learn from listening, a long run or particularly tough workout really knocks down barriers. As I mentioned previously, runners have some nasty habits, some of which may come up during your first few runs. Additionally, runners see each other at their most vulnerable, most triumphant, and most exhausted states (okay, and smelliest). Recognizing and appreciating all of these things makes for solid friendships that will… go the distance. (har har!)
If you frequently run alone, consider finding a running club in your area. Stopping a noticeably large group of runners on the street and demanding details could work, but you can also Google clubs in your area. Most clubs are happy to let you “try them out” for a run or two before signing their waiver and joining, so take advantage of the camaraderie!
If you run a couple of times with a group and decide you prefer the solitude, be safe on your runs and know that the running community is out there, should you ever need them.