The Power of the Group Run

Summer 2021 was my return to distance running. Prior to graduate school, I completed three marathons and several half marathons. During graduate school, I did not have the time I needed to train and, frankly, I was burnt out—so I took some time away from the sport.

benefits of group running

When I finished school, I was itching to tackle another long-distance race and signed up for the Chicago Marathon. These plans were derailed in March 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. I contemplated running the marathon virtually, but realized that training was harder without having a group to train with. I decided my next marathon would have to wait until it was safe to train with others.

The following year, I cautiously signed up for the 2021 Chicago Marathon and group training with CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association). On June 13th, I showed up to my first group long run and realized that I knew nobody. It was 6:00am and just as I began to think that I made a mistake, I was greeted by an enormous ball of energy, my pace leader Whitney. By the end of our first long run, I felt rejuvenated and excited for the rest of summer training. This emotional experience carried over into subsequent long runs and made even the toughest miles feel possible. I had never felt so consistently strong before.

Later in the summer, Nike Chicago’s sub-elite women’s running team, the Windrunners, began to advertise an all women speedwork program called Find Your Fast (FYF) was being coached by Edge Athlete Lounge Owner and Windrunners coach Robyn LaLonde and Windrunners manager Kelcey McKinney. My curiosity was piqued and I thought this program may be a valuable supplement to my marathon training. I was accepted into the program and embarked on one of the hardest training programs that I have ever completed. 

Each week consisted of training designed to bring us to our edge. After many 400 meter repeats, I was on my knees gasping for breath. If I had been attempting this program alone, I likely would have quit—but the Windrunners know the power of the group and placed each FYF cohort member in a pace group. My pace group was lovingly named The Gumps. When I did not want to push myself in a workout, I pushed myself for them.

The culmination of FYF was a mile trial. I lined up with The Gumps with the goal to run a 6:15 mile. Quickly, I realized that would not be the way of the run and I fell behind. I finished my mile with a 1 second PR at 6:52. It was not what I hoped for, but I only finished because I had the power of the group to support me.

I have lofty goals for my marathon this year, and I do not think I could do it without the group. CARA pace leader Whitney Zweifel describes this well, saying, “In a marathon, you are solely responsible for running each mile—but it’s the power of the group that gives you the strength to get through each mile and across that finish line. You may run as an individual, but you never finish a marathon alone.” Read below to learn more about benefits of group running.

Benefits of Group Running

Improved speed and distance

During the Find Your Fast training program, Coach Robyn often reminded the cohort of “The Draft Horse Effect.” Draft horses alone can pull 8,000 pounds, but when paired with another draft horse that it’s trained with, the two in tandem can pull 32,000 pounds. This applies to runners as well. When training as a group, runners can unlock unseen potential. 

Accountability

Group running also creates a high level of accountability. Deanna Senaratne, a member of Gumbofit and Find Your Fast states, “Before joining a community, I ran by myself. I’ve ran multiple races, but never properly trained for any of them. It’s hard to find motivation when you’re alone and it takes incredible discipline. After joining GumboFit, everything about me as a runner and a person, changed for the better. I’ve learned so much more about running and all that it takes to become a better, stronger, faster runner.” 

Many of us can run alone, but the accountability of the group can foster a stronger “why” for showing up.

Connection

When logging several miles with a group, it is easy to develop deep relationships. In the endurance sport community, this bond is often referred to as a ‘Sweat Bond.’

Coach Robyn states, “When it comes to running this is something I like to call ‘elective suffering’ … When we do this in a group … it becomes ‘collective elective suffering’ – so something HARD that we do together. The sweat bond is formed there—by showing up and choosing to do hard things together… It is an incredibly sacred bond as an adult athlete.”

Education

Running is more than just lacing up shoes and going out your front door. Running requires knowledge of appropriate gear, hydration, nutrition, and rest. At first, this can be overwhelming. Women’s Running reports that whether you have been a long-time runner or are new to the sport, the group is often able to provide insights that you cannot attain alone. 

How to get involved in a group run

A more daunting aspect of group running is getting involved. Showing up can feel vulnerable because we want to feel accepted and capable. I recommend reflecting on your purpose for your group run. Are you wanting to run more casually or intensely? Do you want to stay local? Do you want to run with groups reflective of your identity?

Once you find your purpose for your run, I recommend finding a group by searching on Strava and Google. If you know people in the running community, ask who they run with. It is likely that if you enjoy that person, you’ll enjoy their running group. 

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About Sarah Kelly

Sarah Kelly is a licensed social worker and certified alcohol and drug counselor. Sarah received her MSW from Loyola University and Chicago and currently works as an individual and group therapist for Clarity Clinic Chicago with an emphasis in addiction and trauma work. While Sarah believes that therapy is a significant and often necessary tool to foster personal and community wellness, Sarah believes in caring for the whole person and whole community. Sarah works towards this value by engaging in Chicago’s running and yoga communities, tapping into several book clubs and indulging in the bachelor. Sarah hopes to support you in the process in discovering what brings you value in yourself and your community.

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