What if you mixed up your training with a little more social running?
If you always run solo, you're not alone.
I’m a die-hard introvert through and through. And I’ve worked hard to get past some of my more irrational fears around social occasions.
Why? In the end, after I get over the initial discomfort of convincing myself to do crazy things like put on real pants and have actual conversations with live human beings — it turns out that I do truly value close friendship.
But I’ve noticed a pattern when it comes to what kinds of connections I care about most.
Some of the closest friendships that I’ve managed to develop over the years started with social running.
I find it easier to bond with people over a run for TWO key reasons:
We have something essential to our core personalities in common, which reassures me when I’m getting to know someone new.
When in doubt, we can always turn to social running as a means to bring us together.
And as we all know, running means far more to each of us than just a simple way to move our bodies.
For example...A simple conversation starter about what races are on the docket can easily evolve into a deeper dive into the personal motivation behind those races.
...Takes the pressure off of social situations.
Social running gives each of us something to focus on without staring straight into one another’s eyes the entire time while twiddling our thumbs, and the adrenaline rushing through our veins acts like another form of liquid courage for self-expression.
I may never be the type of person to close down the bar every weekend or talk to strangers at the bus stop, but I’m quite likely to launch into my entire life story with a mere acquaintance as long as we’re striding it out alongside one another.
Making new friends or catching up with old ones on foot have helped me see the value of social running.
You won’t see me calling up a pal every time I step out the door for any kind of run. Why? There’s a time and place for both solo and social runs.
Solo runs offer us the chance to learn from ourselves by diving into our deepest trains of thought without interruption, but social running presents unique opportunities to learn from others.
Make time for a few social runs in your training schedule to reap these five rewards.
Every runner has their own way of doing things, and there’s nothing wrong with individualization.
The shoes, routines, and techniques that work for your running friend won’t necessarily pay off in the same way for you.
It’s empowering to recognize the value of finding your own stride and running your own race.
But the habits that we build for ourselves don’t simply pop out of thin air.
Brynn Cunningham, founder of the Trail Run Tribe women’s running group in Ohiopyle, Penn., reflects on how running together “inspires each of us to do things we've never thought possible, like run marathons or ultras or to simply run alone on a trail. We support one another's dreams and bring out the best in each other, in all aspects of life, through running.”
Starting to see the benefits of social running?
Running with others can expand your horizons with access to a whole new world of possibilities.
However, when you’re diving into those new possibilities and trying out unfamiliar techniques, it’s important to make sure that you’re testing out the waters in ways that actually help you as a runner.
For example: Trying out a different landing pattern could lead to undue discomfort or injury if you’re not paying proper attention to your form in the process.
Michael Cavanah, triathlete and orthopedic physical therapist at ATI Physical Therapy in Clemson, SC, advocates for the way that social runs “provide opportunities to learn the details of new techniques and pre- or post-run routines” in real time, using feedback from your mentors to plot out your path.
An attentive running partner might even pick up on mistakes that you haven’t noticed or don’t usually make, like lapses in your form when you start to get tired.
In the process of fine-tuning my form to recover from IT Band Syndrome, I would ask my main running partner to let me know if they caught my knees caving in so that I could make adjustments.
Why? Bad habits would creep up on me as my concentration began to dwindle with each additional mile.
Running with someone else is a great way to get feedback to help you be a better runner.
Ever pay too much attention to the tiny details and miss out on the bigger picture?
You're not alone.
Obsession and neglect lie on opposite ends of the awareness spectrum, and neither extreme has much of a positive effect.
I find that I’m best able to reach this flow state when I...
A good dialogue limits the internal spiral of overattentiveness, while staying in sync with someone else keeps me in touch with details like cadence and stability.
Lina Davis, a group leader for the Eagle Valley chapter of the Trail Sisters Running Community, likens running with a group to running to the tune of your favorite song:
“I’m just so excited to be connecting with someone over something we both love so much and helps define who we are, that I can’t help but run fast and free. The joy feels so energizing.”
Despite the hours upon hours and miles upon miles that I’ve traveled on trail, I have a terrible sense of direction.
When I’m running by myself, I’m more likely to stick to the same ol, same ol’ just so that I feel safe out there on my own.
For good reason, too: I’ve gotten pretty lost on multiple occasions even after thinking that I’d planned out my route well enough, and with all the maps and gadgets on hand that I thought I could possibly need. I might be a lost cause on this one.
But I balance that hesitation during solo runs with enthusiasm on social runs.
Knowing that we’re in it together gives me the confidence to mix up my routine.
With the built-in security of a running partner or group to help decipher all the twists and turns, I can seize the chance to try out new trails that have been patiently waiting on my to-do list.
Then, I can take that experience and add it to the options that I feel comfortable tackling alone too.
Quin Jensen, leader of the running group Mind Over Mileage, also uses his social runs as a chance to break away from the normal routine.
He notices that the daily hustle and bustle sometimes keeps him too distracted to even consider taking new routes, but that time with others is special.
"It allows you to explore places that you’d otherwise miss while in the flow of life…," says Quin. "It allows you to pause even for just 30 minutes or an hour” as the people around you help tie you to the present moment.
On top of being so directionally challenged, I’ve got a few other glaring weaknesses to my name that add stress to my best running intentions:
I’ve tried every trick in the book to get myself out the door on time.
My schedule is usually so jam-packed that the day only flows well if I stay on track from one plan to the next
The only thing that seems to work without question is setting up social runs for accountability.
I don’t enjoy letting myself down when I’m running late and have to rearrange all my expectations for the day.
But as much as I dislike putting myself in that position, I hate letting other people down.
The respect that I have for my friends and running partners lights a hot enough fire under my butt that motivates me to actually listen to my alarm on even the earliest mornings in the coldest temperatures.
Chris Gombeski from the Citius Run Club in Denver, Colo., uses social runs “to hedge against those days where you might feel unmotivated to log some miles all by your lonesome self, or when you need a change of pace (literally or figuratively) to break up some solo miles”.
Of course there are days when we need to take a lack of motivation as a sign to back off and recharge.
But sometimes a little outside push is all you need to light the fire in ways you never knew you needed.
I’ll always value time alone on my feet.
Solo runs free up precious mental space and fill me with a surge of self-confidence that I can carry into anything else the day brings.
But even the best solo days out there come head to head with days when we just can’t piece all the elements together on our own.
In those moments, runners can reach for support by striding it out in solidarity with others.