The benefits of running in groups are well-documented. Running in a group prevents you from cheating and ending a run a half-mile early. It is safer to organize a group run. It relieves the monotony of running by providing a partner, who as Fitness Magazine observes, will have things to talk about other than your job. And there is the competitive aspect as well. Joining a running club or even partnering with a friend or two can greatly enhance your overall running experience.
But group running does carry its downsides. How do you make sure everyone participates? What do you do if your running partner is much faster or slower? To get the most out of group running, you sometimes have to do a bit more than text a friend and set a running time. Here are some important tips to consider.
Focus at the end, not the beginning
A major problem with group running is the different capabilities of runners within the group. The slower runners feel embarrassed about falling behind and may lose motivation, while the faster runners get annoyed at being stuck with a stick in the mud.
Ted Spiker with Runner’s World has an excellent recommendation for how to fix this problem. Instead of everyone starting at the same time, time the run so that everyone finishes at the same time. Slower runners should get a head start depending on their times and speed, and then the faster runners take off later. This strategy does ideally work best with a small group, so that no more than a few runners leave at any one time.
This has advantages throughout the run, especially from a competitive perspective. If everyone starts at the same time and the faster runners surge ahead, the slower runners may stop or slow down out of discouragement. But if everyone is getting close to the finish line at roughly the same time, this creates a level of competition at the end which is one of the biggest benefits of group running in general.
Don’t Push Things
Runners who are slower than average in the group may feel embarrassed about falling behind. But another problem that can result is that a slower runner may not accept their limitations. If their fellow runners are a minute or two per mile faster, they may try to run at that faster pace out of sheer stubbornness, with injury being a common result of pushing yourself too hard, which might require the help of a legal expert.
Group runs are good because they create competition, but destructive competitiveness is a potential danger. Know your limitations and focus on running alongside people with a similar pace to yours instead of trying to be the best runner on Day 1.
Keep the Route Simple
This is a running group, not a navigation group. You do not want people confused about where to go. And while runners should take the time to look up routes for themselves, any group run should follow a simple, easily understandable route.
A particularly good idea is to have the route follow a loop that the group may run around multiple times. Runners who wish to run a shorter distance can drop out quickly without finding themselves stuck in the middle of a long trail. The group can catch up with anyone falling behind making it easier for you to know where everyone is. However, do not make the loop too small so that runners can see varied environments instead of running around a track or treadmill again and again.
Plenty of runners will say that running and talking is impossible, but it just requires practice. And if you are in a group but do not even bother to talk to or even know your fellow runners’ names, can you really say you are in the group?
Bill Rodgers with Active points out that running partners are a great tool to break the tedium of running, but that is only the case if you are taking the time to get familiar with other runners. If you are leading a group, consider banning headphones. Not only do they stifle conversation, they can pose a safety risk as some runners end up paying more attention to their music or podcasts instead of the environment around them.