Different runners have different running habits, some like running alone and others in a running group, Rohini Nair asks which one do you prefer.
Most of us fit in either one of the two kinds of training preferences. We either choose to run alone or in the company of like-minded individuals aka run buddies.
When we look around in a running scene, we often see these two distinct types of runners:
A social wolf, a runner trying to match pace with another runner, sometimes throwing in a motivation cheer to encourage others, exchanging wisdom from their experiences whilst running.
A lone wolf, running in his/her own pace, self-motivated, almost meditative or sometimes in pain, working steadily towards his/her goal. Nothing would ever dare to come in his/her way, such is the aura around that runner.
Interestingly, few studies have found that younger adults enjoy exercising alone more than with others whereas older adults find it more meaningful and motivational when in a group. Let us explore how it works for both these kinds of runners and how you could take a leaf to improve your running experience.
A Social Wolf
The social media and fitness professionals generally endorse working out with a partner or a group to enhance the motivation to exercise, consistency towards training plans, increase intensity and duration. There are several studies that support the claim that group activities lead to “social facilitation” i.e. improvement in performance due to peer presence. Evolutionary and physiologically speaking, though we don’t have to compete with other animals for basic necessities, we can utilize the same reward mechanisms to improve our health and fitness. We tend to mirror the dynamics of a group while exercising and this has several positive physical, psychological and behavioural benefits. But then comes the challenge of finding the ideal group/partner. The tendency for comparison also happens when we train in a group and it plays an important role in determining how hard we push ourselves. It is also easier to stick to a workout schedule when we train in a group. In a group, there will always be individuals with varying fitness and experience levels. It is easier to get valuable information about different kinds of workouts, advice on injury management, recovery, and rehabilitation.
The Lone Wolf
Unwinding after a long hard day or clearing your head before a long eventful day can be best done with a great solo run or a workout. Running alone helps you connect with your body and mind to understand every feedback generated from the aerobic activity. It allows you to set your own target for pace and distance in addition to choosing your own route. Unlike running in a group, one can be flexible with the time for training based on work schedules. Running alone prepares you best for the race day, for you would know what pace to target for when to hydrate/fuel up and train suitable for that. Getting the mind conditioned for overcoming the tough and challenging patches of a race can be best done while running alone. Some find solo running close to achieving a meditative state when you get to switch off from everything else.
In my experience, I find working out with a partner/group always tends to keep my motivation and adherence to workout high. You wouldn’t want to be the first person to give up, right? Also, highly spirited individuals have a positive impact on the overall energy levels of a group. Pacers in a race have the exact same effect for runners. They help runners to achieve a specific target time without having to constantly check their watches. The runners can focus more on their running form and breathing rather than the time or the pace. My first experience with a pacer was for the Tata Mumbai Marathon and I was able to get my target time for the half marathon by just focussing on my run rather than anything else. My pacer gave an enriching experience to everyone on the bus by chanting inspiring slogans, giving hydration cues, narrating the famous sights of the city, etc. I also enjoyed running with my husband during Pinkathon, thoroughly getting pumped up and pampered all throughout the race. During my training runs, we always start with the group even though each one runs at a different pace. The energetic pre and post run routines are something that I look forward to with the whole group. However, I would mostly be running alone which helps me focus more on my body (form and breathing), explore my limits and also get some ‘me-time’!
Who says one cannot don the hat of the lone wolf and also be part of a wolf pack? It is always good to mix the two to bring in a variation and to challenge oneself. For long distance running or to improve on speed workouts, a solo runner can utilize the company of a training partner or a group. At the same time, running alone can help customize an individual’s workout towards achieving a goal set by the runner. A fine balance between the two will definitely help in enhancing your experience as a runner!