The power of group running

Kate Robinson on the many benefits of teaming up with others for a run

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Running is often considered an individual sport, a time for reflection to clear the mind. Getting out after work for some stress-relieving solitary miles in the fresh evening air sounds very appealing in theory, but good intentions are so often derailed in seconds post sofa-flop. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. 

But it’s easy to give into lame excuses when you’re the only one holding yourself accountable. Arranging to meet a running buddy is a great way to ensure you stick to your plans. Plus, knowing someone is waiting for you to chat and joke the miles away makes getting up an hour earlier than usual or passing on post-work pub invitations a lot easier on the days when you’re lacking motivation. And running with others can actually make you faster. PBs aside, group running can improve your mood as well as your speed, and it can undoubtedly help to improve your mental health.   

It’s no wonder group running is more popular than ever and, judging by the numbers events such as Parkrun now generate, it’s showing no signs of slowing.

Here at Trail Running, we say it’s time to get in on the act. Even our MD meets a running buddy to get out of the door at 6.30am for half an hour to get her day started. “There’s no way I’d get up otherwise, and I have to go then because I’m so busy for the rest of the day,” she says [true, those lattes aren’t going to drink themselves].   

If you need a hand to quash the excuses, want to reboot your social life, or simply can’t decide on a decent route, follow the pack and join a running group. 

Here are just some of the ways in which it can benefit you.   

Consistency is key

Maintaining a consistent training schedule is a lot easier if you already have a plan in place to meet someone – don’t think, just go. What’s more, incorporating your meet-up into your routine can remove uncertainty and anxiety about your training. Although the idea of routine often holds connotations of mind-numbing drudgery, organising your activities and maintaining a series of healthy habits has proven psychological benefits aside from just improving your running. 

Meg Selig, author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success, speaks of the liberating power of routine: “If you’ve got a good routine set up, you’ve freed yourself from a lot of small decisions that could slow you down or capture valuable brain-space that you’d prefer to use for something else,” she says. “You can now go on autopilot and still accomplish your goals. In this way, paradoxically, a good routine can be freeing. No need for constant decision-making about what’s coming next or what you should do.”

Routine and consistency are also the secrets to success when training. Take note of Des Linden’s advice after she won the Boston Marathon in 2018: “Keep showing up.” Linden was the first American woman to win the marathon in 33 years, and she credits her success to her consistency, even on days when she feels awful. “Some days it just flows and I feel like I’m born to do this, other days it feels like I’m trudging through hell. Every day I make the choice to show up and see what I’ve got, and to try and be better.” Linden followed her Tweet with #TogetherForward, demonstrating the inclusivity of the running community as well as the power of social media in creating a platform through which runners of all abilities can encourage
one another.   

Make friends

Running groups create the opportunity to socialise without the need to be overtly social. Just turning up for the shared experience of some miles out on the trails with likeminded people can create the camaraderie needed to alleviate loneliness. Running is about much more than just performing well; it provides community, purpose and is a way to channel and dispel anxious energy. 

Dr Ben Gall, US collegiate cross-country coach of 17 years and six-times marathoner, speaks from experience of the social and psychological benefits of running with others. “I think the biggest benefit of being a part of a group is the social dynamic of relating and sharing the experience with others,” he says. “People in your life who don’t run can’t relate, and might struggle to understand why you do what you do. By having a group, you allow yourself to be vulnerable around others and this allows us to really explore ourselves and grow not just as athletes but as people. Running by itself can be an isolating and lonely task but it doesn’t have to be, and I believe that when we allow others to share this journey with us we benefit in ways we could never have otherwise imagined.” 

Count on it

Setting a time and place to meet others for a run makes it twice as easy to leave the house. Even professional runners need help sometimes; Kate Avery, GB athlete and head coach at Concise Coaching (“KateAvery12), admits there are times when even the best runners struggle to get out of the door. “I do this sport because I love it, but that still doesn’t mean I don’t need a friend there to help sometimes,” she says. “So if it is at all possible, I’d always advise that you run with other people when you can.” Having someone counting on you means you won’t only let yourself down if you bail; you’ll feel the effects of skipping a run even more if you know your training buddy is out working hard without you.  

Get faster

The concept of social facilitation refers to improved performance when in the presence of others. It was first investigated by Norman Triplett in 1898, who noticed that cyclists perform better when racing other people than when racing the clock. Running with a group has the same effect; the miles will fly by when you’re surrounded by others. 

Sixty-nine-year-old Dave Robinson attributes his Parkrun addiction, and improving personal best, over recent years to the convivial community of runners on Saturday mornings. He notices that he always runs quicker at an event than when out running on his own in the week. “There’s something instinctively satisfying about running in rhythm with a group of others. I always achieve my best times when running alongside a group of people,” he says. 

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