You might think running is a solitary activity — just you and the open road — but it doesn't have to be. For many who belong to running groups or clubs, running is a social endeavor, the epitome of a team sport where cooperative spirit abounds.
Even the world's most elite track athletes train in teams. In Iten, Kenya, the place some of the fastest humans on earth call home, runners religiously work together in pacing groups to prep for a big race.
That's because group running offers some amazing benefits. From physical to emotional, here are a few reasons why you should start pounding the pavement with friends and join a running club this year.
1. Time Flies
When you're running solo, some days are brutal — every minute feels like an hour, every mile a marathon. But when you're running with other people, your focus isn't on your watch. "I like how fast the miles tick by when immersed in conversations with my teammates," says Deena Kastor, Olympic medalist and co-author of Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory.
"The art of distraction is very powerful," says expert running coach John Honerkamp. "A faster or fitter runner can help you pass the time by telling a story or giving you some encouraging anecdotes."
And running with friends is just more fun, period. According to 2013 research from the University of Southern California's Department of Preventive Medicine, people enjoy exercise more when they're doing it in a group. Time flies when you're cracking jokes about blisters or making bets about who will PR their next race — things only a fellow runner could appreciate!
2. Built-In Accountability
If you're dragging in the morning, it's easy to talk yourself out of a run and press the snooze button — unless you know your group is waiting on you to show up. And research backs it up. A 2014 study published in BMC Women's Health found that accountability to others was a key factor in facilitating regular exercise in women.
Even experienced runners can benefit from a group to hold them accountable, says Sabrina Wieser, a certified running coach and member of Adidas Runners NYC. "I remember one long run in the pouring rain — I would have stayed home if it was just for myself."
Honerkamp points out that having an "accountabili-buddy"can make all the difference. "Runners are much more likely to get out the door even if they have just one other runner to meet. I always say, 'You only need one other person to form a group!'"
3. You’ll Learn a Lot
With access to experienced teammates and coaches, you're bound to gain a wealth of running wisdom and knowledge, especially if you're new to the sport. In a group, newbies can learn plenty of useful strategies, including the vital art of pacing, nutrition and adaptation, says Kastor, who recommends studying and adopting the positive traits of your teammates. "Find what attitudes and characteristics make them successful and build on your own arsenal of strengths."
Running groups can also prove valuable to experienced athletes too! A seasoned runner herself, Wieser benefits immensely from her running club where she picks up new workouts and techniques to lower odds of injury.
Honerkamp agrees: "I'm still learning, and I've been running for 35 years and coaching for 25." In addition to good form and technique, you can also get recommendations for health providers that cater to runners, he adds. Looking for a reputable podiatrist, nutritionist or acupuncturist? Chances are someone in your group knows just the expert to help.
4. You’ll Never Get Bored
Running alone is routine. More than likely, you listen to the same old playlist, take the same route and keep the same pace. But in group running, there's way more variety, which keeps things fresh and interesting. You chat with multiple teammates, try different workouts and explore unfamiliar paths.
If you're an urban runner, you might even feel like a tourist in your own city as you discover new sites on foot. Remember that cool coffee shop you passed by on mile 5? Head back there for a post-run latte with your workout buddies.
5. You’ll Push Yourself Harder
Ever notice you work harder in group fitness classes or at the gym where you can be watched? The same holds true for group running — people tend to perform better physically in the presence of others. This phenomenon, called social facilitation, speaks to our innate competitiveness — no one wants to be the weakest link.
In fact, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology found that working out with a fitter partner improved a person's physical performance on average by 24 percent.
Another 2012 study from Kansas State University showed that when participants exercised with partners whom they believed to be in better shape, they increased their workout time and intensity by approximately 200 percent!
That's why you're more likely to grind out grueling workouts and push up steeper hills in group running — you want to keep pace with the pack. This means you'll run faster and further in a social setting, which is great news for runners looking to PR.
Want to push yourself even harder? "A runner who's leading a group is working an estimated 10 percent harder than everyone else," says Honerkamp, adding that teammates should rotate the lead so the whole group benefits.
6. You’ll Gain a Cheer Squad
Sometimes a kind word is exactly what you need to plow ahead when you're not feeling your best mentally or physically. A 2015 study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology showed that having a workout buddy increases the amount of exercise people do, especially if their partner is encouraging and supportive.
Kastor couldn't agree more. "We all have bad days, but if you're in a good group, your teammates are there to uplift you, give you a better perspective or drag you through to your potential." And it goes both ways — showing support to teammates not only motivates them, but also feeds reward centers of our brains too. A win, win.
Team camaraderie is especially important come race day. "Not every run or race is going to go well, so it is great to have a team to lean on," says Honerkamp. "It often takes a village for someone to train and run a marathon, so strength in numbers."
Wieser knows firsthand. When she ran the New York City Marathon, her Adidas teammates came out in droves to cheer her on. "You see the familiar faces you trained with leading up to the marathon and feel joy in the sense of 'Hey these are my people, and they are here for me.' There's no better feeling than that."
7. You’ll Meet Amazing People
When Wieser first moved to New York City, she didn't know anyone. "Meeting new people is a plus of running with a club," she says. "Now I have a group with the same interests. We share more than just running. Some of my teammates have become really close friends."
Honerkamp agrees: "Runners accept runners, no matter where you're from or what your pace is." Over time, a running group can feel like a family, he says. In fact, you might even find your future life partner in your pacing group. "I've had several runners meet their spouse in my various running groups, so it can be fun playing pseudo-matchmaker."
8. You’ll Build Self-Esteem
Joining a new running group might feel a lot like your first day of school — you'll probably be a little shy, anxious or intimidated in the beginning, and wonder how you'll stack up against others. But as you quickly fall into step with your team and soak up their positive vibes, you'll start feeling more confident.
"Social running can boost your confidence in many ways," says Kastor. "Get a compliment from your teammate? Worth so much." Still, the biggest rush of self-esteem comes from within, she says.
"When you show up tired or unmotivated and can get the work in regardless, it confirms your own ability," she says. In other words, group running is the perfect context to discover what you're capable of — both mentally and physically — which is usually way more than you ever dreamed possible. Once you tap into your mental toughness, you'll build heaps of self-satisfaction and self-esteem.
9. It's Free Therapy
Running itself is therapeutic. A good, long run can clear your head and even be meditative. But social running takes these benefits to the next level. Surrounded by friends you trust, casual chats often turn to more serious, personal topics while running. "We laugh and cry together," says Wieser, adding, "we talk about absolutely anything and everything."
Kastor has engaged in some of her life's most intimate conversations while running with teammates. "When we are out there, possibly influenced by fatigue, we lend the most vulnerable parts of ourselves. Some of the most rewarding running moments are opening up, not feeling shame, but privilege to share the deepest parts of ourselves and be accepted and respected for doing so."
And, just like in therapy, everything you share remains confidential and private. "What's said on the run stays on the run," says Kastor.