When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020, people were ordered to “shelter-in-place” and “physically distance” themselves from everyone not in their immediate family circle.
Social media lit up with runners bemoaning the loss of their running groups and training partners.
Me? Nothing changed.
I run alone.
As I’ve built more running community through social media and racing, I’ve learned first-hand the benefits of running in groups: long runs feel easier when I’m distracted by running with friends, and well, they’re just a lot of fun. But I live in a small village and there are no people to run with. So if I want to train a lot, I run alone.
Some runners, especially women, say they’re scared to run alone. But I find the benefits outweigh any of the risks. Here are just a few:
RUNNING ON MY OWN TIME
I work full-time and juggle two teenage kids on my own. That means I’m often stealing hours to get my runs in. This kind of unpredictability makes scheduling time with others challenging, and so I’ve learned to embrace the spontaneity. If I wake up early and want to catch the sunset before work, great! Off I go. If it’s 9:30 pm and I still have 12km to run, then I strap on my Noxgear and get my miles in. Or if I find a pocket of time on a Saturday morning, I can also decide last minute to jump in the car and drive an hour to the trailhead.
SELF MOTIVATION IS ON POINT
I’ve heard a lot of runners talk about how hard it is to motivate themselves to get out the door without their training partner or group, but running solo means I’m responsible for my own motivation, that that’s built some strong mental grit. I can look back on my training plans and say, “I did that. I ran all those miles because I set a big goal for myself.” And if I don’t get myself out the door, I have only myself to call out. It’s no one else’s responsibility but my own, and that makes for satisfying and sustainable training.
DIALING IN TO MY BODY.. AND MY MIND
When I run on my own, it’s just me and my footfalls. This gives me the space and time to pay attention to how it feels. Where do I feel tightness? How is my breathing? Am I bunching my toes? What can I do I release holding?
I’m also more present to my surroundings and the sheer joy – and privilege – of running.
RUNNING AT MY OWN PACE
“Do you want to run faster? Then you need to slow down.” That’s the opening sentence of Matt Fitzgerald’s book 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower, that builds on the idea that the secret to running faster is to run slow most of the time. Intensity, or how hard you’re running relative to how hard you’re capable of running, can be classified into three general zones: low, moderate and high; low is around that point where you have to start breathing harder or can no longer carry on a conversation. Studies have shown that runners of all abilities and experience levels improve most when they do approximately 80% of their training at low intensity and 20% at moderate and high intensity.
The point of this? When I run with a group, I typically adjust my paces to stay in the group. When I run on my own I can keep my own pace. And that makes for more productive training.
You might train with a group, and race with hundreds or thousands more, but running is ultimately a solo endeavour. It comes down to your own set of feet, and putting one in front of the other. Embrace it.
* Running coach Amanda Brooks of “Run to the Finish” has a great blog entry on “9 Powerful Benefits of Running Alone”
* Alex Nichols of IRunFar.com has a article on “The Benefits of Training Alone” that has more on the science of 80/20 running