“Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run.” – Bruce Springsteen
As I have traveled across the Rio Grande Valley preaching the gospel of running, and more specifically, the opportunity to put your training to use at the upcoming South Padre Marathon, I have frequently heard the same question asked. “Is it better to train with a group or alone?”
Like politics and religion, this is a deeply personal question. In generations past, many believed it to be a subject that shouldn’t be discussed in the presence of polite company. However, we live in a more progressive age and I feel at liberty to share with you my take on the subject.
The short and easy answer is yes. Yes, training with a group can help keep you motivated, accountable and consistent. Yes, training alone can help you unwind, find focus and develop resilience.
The alternative, short and easy answer, is no. No, training with a group can be intimidating, scary and extremely smelly. No, training alone can be intimidating, scary and boring.
Once again, running is like politics and religion. Two people can be looking at the same circumstances, yet interpret the situation entirely differently.
I have found that most people thrive in a group environment. Groups provide camaraderie, and since most of us are generally social creatures, we prefer to share our experiences with others. Sweating on a hot afternoon run can be much more tolerable when you are with others who are enduring the same. Additionally, knowing that someone is expecting you to show up for a morning run, can be a powerful motivator for those days when you feel like hitting the snooze button.
One of the best reasons to run with a group is for the education. Runners, while often smelly, can be the most generous group of people when it comes to sharing their knowledge. Since running, like most of life, can be a series of trials and errors, why not hack the process and learn what has, and has not, worked for others? If you are a more experienced runner, groups give you the chance to help others, just as someone once helped you.
Personally, I prefer to run alone. At work I often spend a great deal of time interacting with people, at home I have a wife, four kids and a dog. While I love my family and usually like most people, I covet my time running alone. It allows me to gather my thoughts, plan for the future, pray and get mentally prepared for all the day may have in store. I can run with others, but the runs feel incomplete, as if only my body got the experience and my mind is still wanting.
I was in high school when I first heard the African proverb of the lion and the gazelle. “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows that it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter if you are a lion or gazelle: when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
If you are a gazelle, I’d imagine that you run with a group. There is more protection with a group. Now, instead of focusing on outrunning the fastest lion, you need only to not be the slowest gazelle.
If you are a lion, I’d imagine that you would run alone. There is less assurance in reaching your goal since you don’t have others to help. However, it might be the solitude of the journey that powers you onward.
It doesn’t matter if you are the lion or gazelle: when the sun comes up, you’d better be running. However, if you are a gazelle, be sure and remember the deodorant, the other gazelle’s will appreciate it.

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