Coach Mike Mead

Group Training to a Faster You - February 2007

If you have been a distance runner for any period of time, you have heard about or experienced first-hand the “loneliness of the long distance runner.” Many of us, including myself, spend countless runs on our own logging mile after mile. The peace and solitude may be great, but if you are trying to make yourself a faster runner than going solo is hampering your progress.

Anybody who has ever attended a summer camp is familiar with the “buddy system.” That’s where you have a buddy who pairs up with you mainly to be sure you are safe – someone to watch your back -- when doing activities like swimming or hiking.

Many runners avoid group or team runs because of numerous reasons. Some are sound reasons like scheduling conflicts, running ability, or personality differences. But if you have attempted some of the training suggestions I’ve made in this space, perhaps it’s time to find a running buddy or group.

In December I heard a brief presentation from Kevin Hanson, co-founder of the Hanson’s-Brooks Distance Project. He and his brother Keith have created a fabulous environment for post-collegiate men to continue their distance running dreams. Based outside of Detroit, Michigan, the Project houses runners in two homes and provides them the basics, including insurance, so that they can continue to train at a high level to compete on the national and international levels.

Take the Kenyans. We all admire their strength and speed. Most Kenyans train with meager means. They train diligently and at altitude. But I believe their biggest asset is group training. I receive e-mails through the year from prospective Kenyans wanting to come to the U.S. to run college and earn a college degree. They are e-mailing me from a training camp somewhere in the Rift Valley, or so they claim.

I’m not advocating that you begin a running commune with a few of your running friends, but those workouts where you need to be challenged, it is going to help you get through it by running with others. As my assistant coach Hugh Toro stresses to our Clayton State running teams each year, “there is strength in numbers!”

Running is an individual sport, but a team environment is valuable. Running with someone else or in a group will bring you better results. I think back of the days when I might struggle in a workout and a teammate helped me get through it.

Many running clubs offer groups runs. Go to one for a change of pace. You might find someone close to your ability level you might be able to do speed workouts with at another time. Better yet, you meet someone just a little faster than you who will help you get to their level!

There may be solitude in running by yourself, but don’t go it alone. Besides becoming faster, you might be missing out on one great friendship.