Disclaimer: The following article was originally published in Mens Running in 2013. I’ve changed a little bit of the article around to add some local information and added photos which are relevant to myself.
Even if it’s your worst nightmare, running with others can take you to the next level. Here’s why you should do it, and how to ensure it’s enjoyable…
Running used to be seen as a largely solo activity. In the 80’s, when the running boom occurred, leading brands based their shoe campaigns around iconic images of the lone runner in the distance, running across a desert or along the side of a mountain. (Much like the one I’ve included below…should be on the front of a magazine, right?)
Running alone still is, and always will be, a mainstay in the sport. Nothing beats the freedom of being able to lace up your running shoes, whenever and wherever, and going for a run as fast or slow, long or short as you please. For immediacy and freedom, no other sport comes close.
But if you only ever run solo, you are missing out. Training with others, be it formally or informally, can really take your running to a new level. When Mo Farah moved to train in the US, his new training group was made up of guys who were hungry and ready to push him. He knew he needed the group to take his running just that little bit further on and the results are there for all to see.
Now there’s no suggestion here that you ditch your life for a nine-month training camp in the States or take up residence in the Rift Valley; but just the idea of giving running with others a go. Some of the benefits you’ll get include:
INCREASED RUNNING KNOWLEDGE
No matter how long you’ve been running, or how voraciously you devour every morsel of running information you can lay your hands on, you will never know everything. Talking to other runners is a great way to learn and expand your knowledge on subjects including injury, different types of training, kit, nutrition, good and bad races, and many, many more. Don’t believe everything you hear, and bear in mind that what works for one person may not work for another, but be open to the opinion of others and engage in a bit of healthy debate – you’ll become a more knowledgeable, mentally active athlete as a result.
TRAINING WITH BETTER RUNNERS
Although this is probably the main thing that puts people off joining a club or group, for fear of embarrassing themselves, training with runners of a higher level is a fantastic way to improve your own ability. Whilst there’s little benefit in trying to keep pace with someone ten times as fast as you, training with people who are just ahead of you in terms of fitness and performance will drag you up to their level. You’ll also see what the faster people are doing that makes them so fast, and be able to apply some of this to your own running and lifestyle.
FEWER SKIPPED SESSIONS
Whilst there is a beauty to not having to answer to anyone else in terms of when you run and for how long it can also be a negative. If you’ve had a really long day, you’re tired, and really not looking forward to your planned run, it’s a lot easier to skip it if the only person you have to answer to is yourself; we can all find ways to justify it to ourselves and tell ourselves we’ll make up for it. If you have other people relying on you to turn up, you’ll get it done. The same applies within the session itself, if no-one else is watching, it’s easy to coast through a session when you’re not feeling your best. The friendly encouragement of others, and your pride, will ensure that you push yourself and get the most out of every session.
Many groups and communities are free to join, but even official clubs tend to be pretty reasonable; you can join from upwards of £25 per year. Alongside all the other benefits, which more than make that great value, many offer discounted race entry and even discounts in local sports retailers. Chances are, it’ll be the best bit of running money you spend.
Without wishing to get all Oprah Winfrey, there really is something to be said for surrounding yourself with likeminded people who grow to care about you and want to see you achieve your goals. Knowing that you’re not in it on your own will help lift you through the tougher moments, give you a sense of perspective, and encourage you to yourself and your running mates proud.
There’s nothing to stop you finding and entering as many different races and events as you please, but being part of a community will not only make this easier, it will encourage you to try things you might otherwise have missed or ignored. As well as team races, the great variety of events you will be exposed to by other runners can only be good for you and your running.
I’M CONVINCED…WHERE DO I GO?
There are so many options to choose from. You can still join the local running club to run, train and race with likeminded folk, but there are plenty of other options, such as local groups, gym groups, online running communities and evening runs setting off from shops. Races like Brighton Marathon even offer a RunClub that meets every Sunday to give you company on your long training runs.
The real key is finding something that’s going to work for you. If you find yourself tied to a club or group that isn’t the right fit for you, your running won’t benefit, and may actually suffer. With so many options available, the right fit is out there. Don’t rush into joining and signing your life away, take your time and make sure you get the following benefits:
- A welcoming and friendly environment.
- Safe and effective venues to train
- Likeminded runners with similar goals
- A range of abilities, including some that offer a match or target for you.
AM I TOO SLOW?
The main thing that puts people off running with others is the fear that they’ll be too slow. They worry that all groups and clubs are full of super-keen running nerds rattling around at six-minute-mile pace and laughing at anyone who doesn’t know what a fartlek is. Some club are like that, but they are very much in the minority. The only way to find out whether a particular club is a good fit for you is to give it a go. If you find it unwelcoming and cliquey, or comprised of runners of too different and ability to you, just try another – you haven’t lost anything. Trying one club that’s not right and deciding that you’re destined for a life of running solitude is like having a dodgy kebab and deciding you’re never eating out again.
You can also check with your local running shop (for me that’s Chivers; https://www.chiverssports.co.uk) to see if there are any organised runs you can get involved with.
The running group that I’m involved in, DH Runners, currently offer running groups on a Tuesday (Intermediate and above) and a Thursday (Beginners) night and, every quarter, run a session called You Can Run which is aimed at giving people completely new to running the basics to then, following the course, transition into the Thursday beginners group. Competitive (including England Athletics affiliation) and Non Competitive memberships are currently available.