As a runner you know that a program that incorporates various distances, paces, and surfaces helps you perform your best. What you may not realize is that the same holds true with the company you keep—or don't keep—on the run.
Whether you'd rather gab away the miles with pals or be alone in your own thoughts, runners who are strictly social butterflies or lone rangers are at a disadvantage.
"Being set in an introverted or extroverted running pattern can limit your experiences and prevent you from growing as a runner," says Michelle P. Maidenberg, Ph.D., M.P.H., a psychotherapist who works with athletes. Mixing things up and seeking out—or passing up—companionship can make you a more balanced runner.
Between chirping cell phones, pinging e-mails, chatty coworkers, and rowdy kids, it can be tough finding moments of peace and quiet in your day. Running alone can allow you to hit the mute button on the world (especially if you leave the gadgets behind) and take full advantage of exercise's stress-busting benefits.
"Running alone can be a meditative experience where you get to really think and concentrate or completely clear your mind and zone out," Maidenberg says.
There are performance benefits as well. When you're on your own, you can pay better attention to your form, breathing, and pace, says Brendan Cournane, a Chicago-based running coach.
"It's easy to choose to run with a group at a casual pace, but doing that all the time can keep you from reaching your running potential," he says. "And if you always run with a group that's too fast, it can push you into doing more than you should." Running by yourself is especially important if you're coming back from injury and need to listen to your body to avoid another setback.
Also, solo training makes you self-sufficient for race day: You'll feel comfortable finding—and sticking—to a pace on your own without relying on a partner, and you'll get practice recognizing when your body needs hydration and fuel.