Many runners have missed meeting up with their buddies, groups or clubs during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Luckily, as vaccination rates continue to climb, many groups have resumed meeting in person. But what about all of the solo runners out there who have never pounded the pavement or dusted up the trails with a group of like-minded friends?
Apart from the obvious social aspect of running with a group, are you missing out on something great? To find out, we asked Steve Carmichael, a USATF running coach in Columbus, Ohio, who is also a long-time running group organizer and creator of the online running community and podcast RunBuzz.
Is It Even Safe to Run With a Group Right Now?
Before we dive into all of Carmichael's great insight, you might be wondering if it's too soon to start running with others again. Unfortunately, that's not something we can say definitively right now because it just depends. It's absolutely critical that you assess your own situation, including infection rates where you live, your vaccination status and you and your family's overall health and immune function.
The most current CDC guidelines on outdoor activities vary depending on whether you are fully vaccinated or not, but in general, unmasked, outdoor activities are considered safe for non-immunocompromised individuals. Not only is this great news for runners who've missed gathering outdoors, but Carmichael notes running with a group can be safer than running alone in other ways as well.
"There's always safety in numbers," he says. "Just in general, but also if you get injured and need assistance." He added that most well-organized groups will have at least one hydration station set up, which can be a huge safety plus in hot and humid weather.
Pros: Accountability Tops the List
While safety in numbers is an important pro of running with a group, what's top of mind for Carmichael is the accountability and motivation running groups foster. "Groups and clubs really build in accountability among their members. It gives you a reason to show up on those days when you don't feel like running, like Saturday mornings for me," he says.
And while showing up is undoubtedly the most important part of your training, running with a group can also keep you from underperforming on those training runs. "Depending on the type of workouts, having a running partner can encourage you to pick up the pace a bit," Carmichael explains. He also notes that large groups and clubs usually have runners at all stages and speeds, so you should be able to find a buddy or two who can challenge you without leaving you in the dust.
Dollars and Sense: Free Advice and Discounts on All Things Running
While many running groups charge a small annual fee to cover administrative and other expenses, you'll typically get many times your money back in the form of free training tips and group discounts. No matter whether your running group is large or small, it's almost a guarantee that someone there will have more experience than you. Some members might even be certified running coaches. For newer runners especially, being able to ask questions of runners with years or decades of experience can be invaluable when it comes to boosting running performance and even preventing injury.
Free training tips aren't the only payback, either. Many local races and running stores offer club member discounts of 10 percent or more on entry fees, running shoes and other merchandise. As any longtime runner knows, that can add up to serious savings pretty quickly.
A Few Cons as WellIn talking with Carmichael, the pros of running with a group greatly outnumber the cons, but he did bring up a couple of great points to keep in mind.
Run at Your Own PaceRemember the pro about how running with a group can help you push yourself? "That can be a con, too," Carmichael says. "Sometimes runners will tend to run faster than they're ready for, and that can lead to injury. Faster runners can also challenge a newer runner's confidence." That's a nice way of saying it really sucks to spend an entire run struggling to keep up. The remedy? Find a group of runners at your own ability level. According to Carmichael, that might mean trying out a few different running groups because "some clubs are more welcoming than others. If you find one that doesn't feel inclusive, don't give up. Search for another one."
Even if a club is the most welcoming in the world, you won't be able to reap all those great benefits if your schedule doesn't jive with theirs. This is one of the big benefits of online or virtual running groups, and it's a main reason why Carmichael started the RunBuzz podcast and online community.
As he notes, there's no substitute for running side by side with a partner that challenges you in just the right way, but virtual groups and online communities are a fantastic alternative for those who live in more rural areas or those whose schedules don't coincide with in-person groups. "During COVID, we've even seen people using technology to go on virtual runs with their buddies, using their smartphones and Bluetooth headphones," he adds.
The bottom line is that joining a running club or group might just be the shot in the arm your training needs. It's a great way to stay motivated, push yourself, learn from more experienced runners and have a lot of fun in the process.
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