Whether you’re a race-hardened veteran or new to trail running, there is always the choice to log your miles solo or with others. Our schedules probably naturally pull us in one direction or the other, but we’ll go over some of the pros and cons of each to shed some light on which option may benefit different aspects of training. Since the trail and ultra community is all about just that, the community, we’ll start with the pros and cons of running with a group.
To quote Woody Allen, “80 percent of life is just showing up.” Group runs hold us accountable. It’s far more difficult to talk yourself out of a run if you’ve got a great group of people relying on you to show up. Even if it’s just one other person that you don’t want to let down, you’re far more likely to show up for your run.
We all know how daunting the thought of a long run alone can be. Knowing you’ve got at least one other person committed makes the hours of running ahead of you far more achievable, and even enjoyable. If you have a large group, and the free time, make the best of it. Turn a long trail run into a cookout afterwards. Everyone brings some food and beer to contribute. Not only do you have your post-run meal, you’ve got yourselves a party!
Running with a group is a great way to push your limits, too. The only way to run faster is to run faster. We’ve all had those runs where we fall into the same comfortable pace, but with a group there are runners of all paces, and there is almost always someone faster than you. The same way we get caught up on race day running faster than we should, during a group run you’ll end up trying to stay with the front runners without even a moment’s consideration. Sure, we may not be able to hold that pace the entire outing, but every time you go out faster, you’re conditioning your body to handle the harder effort. Eventually you become that faster runner that people are trying to stay with.
And you won’t run just faster, but further! It's easy to talk yourself into a few more miles if you’re having a great time and everyone is going a little farther as well. When I first started running, anything beyond three miles was the stuff of fiction. I showed up to one weeknight group run, and the usual route was six miles. It took some time, but every week I pushed myself a little further until I could go the full distance. If someone else can do it, then so can you. The same mentality can carry you all the way to the ultra distances.
Do you know all there is to know about running? Yeah, me either, but there is a wealth of knowledge out in the trail community, and almost all the runners I know are more than happy to share their passion for trail running, their trials and errors with fueling and hydration, great race stories, and even some lessons on trail etiquette. The only way you’re going to learn any of this is to get out and be a part of that community.
While all of the previous sounds fine and good, there are definitely times when it’s beneficial to go it alone. Maybe you prefer to run solo, and you know it, and just use a social group run to break the funk? Perhaps the only time you get a run in is with the group, and you need some encouragement to tackle some solo miles? Maybe the only time you have to squeeze in a run is at 4:30 a.m. from your front door? Whatever the case, here are reasons to go it alone.
Some of us choose to take our trail running to an actual organized event. Whether you call it racing, or just paying for aid stations, that’s up to you, but if you have a set event in mind to measure yourself against, there are some days you have to put in some focused work. Whether it’s an easy run on a recovery day, hill repeats, or a hard tempo run, you can’t always get the most out of those days if you are keeping up with or waiting around for others. Sometimes your pace has to be your own.
Nothing builds mental toughness like a long run by yourself. When you hit that dark spot, whether it’s mental or physical, the only person that is going to keep you putting one foot in front of the other is you. The more you can confront that in training, the more prepared you’ll be on race day.
In the end, there are probably far more benefits to meeting up with other trail runners when the opportunity presents itself, but solo runs do have their place. If you’re disciplined enough, you can even reap the benefits of both at once. Use the group to hold you accountable so you show up, but maintain your own pace or workout for your training needs.
Sometimes it’s motivation enough just knowing someone else is out their on the trail. And if you’re new to trail running, and all of your runs have been done solo, be sure and introduce yourself to the other runners on the trail. You’ll hardly find a more welcoming family than the trail and ultra community.
Author: Denzil Jennings is a member of Terrain Trail Runners living in Edwardsville, Ill.
“I’m not a racer.” The words continued to ring in my head even after I excused myself from a group conversation with a few fellow runners.
What does that even mean? Was that an involuntary accusation by this person that the rest of us who pay to run in races have a problem? Simply because this person claims to have only ever paid for a handful of races, does that make them any different than the rest of us who pay for a few races over the course of a year? Did this person not just compete in a race a few weeks ago and recently sign up for another one?
Unable to come to a conclusion, I found myself pondering the question: Why Do We Race? Like most things in life, the decision to race is based on a far deeper and infinitely more complex reason than to simply suggest that we race for the purpose of competing and winning. For those of us who have adopted running as a way of life, running becomes a ritual that we do every day without question. No thought goes into this consistent activity; no wondering why we are running and what the point is. We quite simply become complacent to running.
When we sign up for a race, though, we are reminded of the once coveted innocence that motivated us to throw caution to the wind and believe in something greater than ourselves, something that held deeper meaning, something that at one time we deemed as irreplaceable. What is it that brought us to our feet countless times? Why did we pick up running in the first place?
In racing, not everyone competing is a winner. Let’s face it: If you’re not the first person to cross the finish line, you’re not a winner. Yet knowing the fact that we’re most likely not going to win, we go out and sign up for a race anyway. Because victory is not the reason we race. Neither is it to achieve superiority, and on most occasions, it isn’t even about beating our competitor.
Here are a few reasons why we race:
Set a personal record. At the end of each year, we sit down to set goals for the following year. We strive to improve not only by racing better but by picking races that take us out of our comfort zone. We push distance and push pace, and in doing so we compete against ourselves — current and past — to see if we can set a new personal best.
Win your age group. We all inevitably age and become slower. PRs become a thing of the past, but one must continue to challenge oneself; therefore, we race to compete with our peers. We push to see if we can place in our age group simply to satisfy that need to improve.
Comradery. Who can deny the social aspect of racing? Not every single reason for signing up for a race can be pinned to emphasize the need to compete. FOMO, also known as Fear of Missing Out, is a strong motivator. Missing out on meeting a new running friend. Getting together with old running buddies. Having an opportunity to hang out post-race and eat, drink, socialize, and celebrate the winners and all things racing.
Charity Race. All racing is not self-centered. We sign up for races to support a cause, support a friend and to raise funds. Who wouldn’t want to kill two birds with one stone? Feed your love of racing and support a needy cause while doing so — sign me up!
Escape. Racing allows homemakers, school teachers, mechanics, truck drivers, salesman, engineers and so forth the ability to suit up in running gear every race weekend and perform. There are no agents involved, no union restrictions, no contracts to worry about and no multimillion dollar deals to be adhered to. Racing is real life without a reset button. It’s one of those precious experiences that cannot be duplicated or imitated or falsified using gimmicks or unreal statements.
This is why we race. Running is a sport that encompasses all of life’s raw emotions — every unadulterated feeling, everything it means to be human can be found here — and racing brings them to a boil. The life lessons learned through running and racing cannot be found on the Internet, they cannot be found in an encyclopedia or a text book, they can only be found by lacing up and hitting the road.
The joys and pains of defeat. The graciousness of both winning and losing at the same time. To watch a runner, a mere mortal, push both the laws of physics and nature on a weekly basis is an art. If these words don’t give you goose bumps, if these reasons don’t get your heart pumping and make you want to sign-up for a race, then there can be only one explanation: You have assumed room temperature and have officially reached your warranty expiration.
Now go sign up for a race! See and feel for yourself what all the fuss is about!
Author: Shalini Kovach is the lead organizer of Terrain Trail Runners.
The runner’s high. It’s why we all run, right? Lace up, hit the ground, push our limits for the sweet feeling of…hmm, what exactly is a runner’s high? Have I ever had one? Does the ensuing goofiness after a run count? Was that what happened that one time I hyperventilated?
Google “runner’s high” and the most legit definition is very scientific while still lacking any explanation as to whether you’re going to feel euphoric or delirious or even just pretty good.
I think it was sometime in college that I realized not everybody ran. So, when I first started sharing my running experiences with others, often over a drink, pre-social media — well, OK, we had IM and Myspace was becoming a thing — I always got the same questions. “Oh, you go for the runner’s high?” “Do you get a runner’s high?” “Heeey, maaan, what’s a runner’s high like?”
I always felt weird saying, “Uh, I don’t know.” But that was the truth. Having run fairly regularly since the seventh grade, I never looked at aspects of running as ones that would be considered anything other than a stage of suckiness or a stage of “oh, running, how do I love thee?” As I’ve gotten older, I guess I’ve paid more attention to those swings of emotional high and low that come with running.
Running is a great coping mechanism for me. I often make peace with a disappointment or loss through running. Sometimes, though, I unintentionally close a difficult chapter while logging miles. One 20-mile run that I did this year was really just the pits. I had four miles left and, had quitting not meant I was stranded out in a cornfield, I would’ve just stopped. But then I started thinking of a departed friend (and previously accomplished distance runner) and I felt almost as if he were there with me. I was overcome with emotion, started really pushing the pace, and felt a huge weight crush into my chest around the same time I realized that I had tears running down my face. Runner’s high?
I’ve had speed days where I feel like I was flying, just really toeing the line of that sub-6:30 mile, focused solely on speed, not even footfalls. Every skin surface tingled, all my muscles worked in unison, the feeling of unhinged strength and ability. This is where I am supposed to be, this is what I am supposed to be doing. I am the shit! Runner’s high?
From time to time during steady hill climb, when things start to feel as if I’m just stuck in the same upward motion, I ask myself, “Sheesh, do I really want to be on this hill ALL day?” So, I push it, I stress my heart, turn off the pain receptors in my brain, and go faster, uphill. It’s hard to breathe. It’s touch-and-go as to whether I’ll survive standing up. But as the hill levels, I feel good. Real good. Runner’s high?
After a long run, I can label myself as fairly useless for the remainder of the day. Sure, I can handle obligations with farm and family. I can take on a few non-essential tasks, but I’m sure that more than one bystander is like, “Really, that woman forgot how to use her pen.” I might start talking and all of the sudden that quick little tangent ends up being “a thing” that I want to discuss at length and research and potentially invest in. Crazy stuff. I’m often thankful that I’m able to drive without injuring myself or anyone else after particularly exhilarating mileage. Runner’s high?
So, let’s discuss. Were any of these runner highs?
Well, it has taken me years of running to quantify what exactly MY runner’s high is, and that might not come close to what is expected from another person’s experience. My runner’s high is a kind of gratitude. I’m just so darn thankful for EVERYTHING. It’s most intense while my body is running at a pleasantly sound mode. It sometimes only last a few seconds, but I’m happy to acknowledge it, and I realize it is a little gift (just for me) arrived at due to a little push (from me).
I can recall moments over my life where I felt very much in peak form, and this “buzz” feeling certainly accompanies that. But, as for a high, I dunno. Maybe I still haven’t gotten that. I don’t get asked about it much anymore, as I tend to share my experiences and accomplishments via DRC, or with other runners. This way, I keep my poor, extended family from asking questions like, “Eight miles? Oh my gosh, you are going to kill yourself!” or “Oh, I see, you go for the runner’s high.”
Author: Meghan McCarrick lives in Washington, Mo., eats copious amounts of kale and runs 30 to 50 miles a week, usually with her dog, Magpie.
Our blog writers are members of Terrain Trail Runners, local athletes just like you, who want to share their love and knowledge of the sport.