Running in groups, or running alone? Many people have very clear views on this. They either prefer to run in packs, like lions, or solitary, like tigers. There’s no right or wrong of course… it all depends on what works best for you. (Much like the early morning vs afternoon/evening debate)
Up until recently, I was firmly in the ‘lion’ camp. Why else would I want to get out of bed at arse o’clock when it’s 2 degrees outside with the possibility of rain thrown into the bargain? Or on a Sunday morning on a stinking hot summer day after a night out drinking with the girls and only a couple of hours sleep?
I love running in a group. I regularly run with 3 weekday morning groups, plus my parkrun on Saturdays with 250+ of my closest friends, and on Sundays it could be any of: a long road run, a trail run or a race (all, again, as part of a group). Some mornings I really look forward to the run itself, sometimes it is the ‘therapy’ that comes from chatting with fellow runners along the way (NEVER underestimate the power of a little ‘run therapy’), and to be honest sometimes it’s just the thought of the coffee afterwards that gets me out of bed! I did once make the mistake of turning up for coffee without running… my fellow runners gave me so much (good-natured) grief for that, I decided never to do that again!
Running CAN be boring… but if you’re running with a group that can take your mind off the monotony. There’s generally a range of paces in the groups which means that everyone should be able to find someone to run with. Sometimes I run in the middle of the pack, sometimes I just feel like an easy ‘jogette’ (eg in the post-marathon week) and sometimes, somehow, I find myself running with ‘the fast guys’ (admittedly only when they are tapering, injured or recovering, but still…). In any case I always have good company.
The traditional post-run coffee is a way that all of us get to catch up, regardless of pace. It’s a big part of the whole experience and I’m always disappointed when work commitments mean I have to dash off straight after the run. Fortunately my work is flexible and for the most part I can make my own appointments and therefore make it to coffee!
The thought of doing a long run on my own filled me with dread, particularly in the early days. I did my first 30k on my own last year, only because my soccer team had a pub crawl scheduled on the Saturday night and I wanted to be able to enjoy it without having thoughts of the next day’s (probably hungover) long run popping into my head. So I drove to Paradise on the Saturday morning, with the intention of running 15k along the river and then back again. It wasn’t an enjoyable run but it was broken up a bit when a friend from one of my running groups, Gary, happened to be running on the same track and ran with me for 4k. That was a godsend… although he is a fast runner… I certainly couldn’t have sustained 30k at that pace, but it was great to have some company if only for a short time.
The rest of my long runs happened on Sundays, even when I had to dash off to play soccer straight afterwards. I just hated the idea of running on my own!
Recently, though, things have changed. I have had a few positive experiences running on my own that have made me realise it’s not so bad!
Solo running lets you run at ‘your’ pace, rather than that of those around you. I thought that running solo would make me run slower, but actually the last time I ran on my own, I ran faster than expected!
It also allows you to concentrate on things like breathing and cadence/stride length, which is hard to do when distracted by conversation. Sometimes I’ll use my iPod (volume low enough to hear the sounds of the outside world) and other times I’ll be mentally composing my next blog post.
And sometimes it’s just great to have some time to yourself especially when life gets a bit chaotic! This year, 1 week out from the Barossa Marathon, I ran a lovely 20k in Katoomba. It was not easy… lots of elevation, but such amazing scenery on the trail. No music for me that day… just a small pocket of serenity on what was a crazy weekend!
I’ve done solo runs at other times when away on holidays either alone or with non-runners… in Sydney (how can you possibly have a bad run when Sydney Harbour is the backdrop?), Queenstown NZ (Wow. Just wow!), and also in London and Liverpool in the lead-up to my first marathon (the London runs were SLOW mostly due to having to stop every 30 seconds to take a photo!). The novelty of running in a new place and being able to combine a run with a little sightseeing made these runs most enjoyable.
More recently I slept in on a Sunday after a late night out… the 5.30 alarm was quickly silenced and I somehow managed to turn off the 6am one without waking up. I knew, when I saw sunlight when I woke up about an hour later, that I had missed my group run. So I got up and had breakfast while trying to plan out a suitable loop from home – one that was long enough that I wouldn’t have to repeat it too many times, and short enough that I wouldn’t need to carry too much fuel… just a hand held bottle (which I could refill when passing by home) and a pocketful of Lifesavers. As it turned out my loop was the perfect length – 3 loops made 26k which was the same distance as the group run. It was a cold morning so going out a little later meant the sun was out and it was maybe a few degrees warmer. Pace was good… comparable to recent long runs despite the nasty little Greenhill Road hill (Feathers Hotel to Hallett Rd if that means anything to you!) being part of the loop, hence by the third ascent my legs were starting to complain! I actually enjoyed this run, I did run with music this time and I certainly think that helped. It’s good to know that if I do need to do a long run on my own in future, it’s nothing to be dreaded!
So I guess that settles it. I am a liger!