Twenty-two years ago I signed up to do my first marathon. I didn’t sign up because I felt obligated to the marathon distance nor was I particularly fond of running that far. I did it for a whole different reason and it was refreshing. I signed up to do the 1997 Honolulu Marathon as a fundraising member of Team in Training and raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
This was back in the day before household computers. No email and no chip timing by the way. I was thrilled to be able to run, train and race for a cause bigger than myself, but to be honest, the charity aspect wasn’t the biggest draw. When I went to the Informational Meeting to find out what this Team in Training thing was all about, the two most important draws for me were #1 – you get to train with a big group of people every weekend, and #2 – group runs will be held in different locations throughout the county (which for me meant I was going to get a running tour of San Diego County). I was new to the area, so meeting new running friends and learning the area while doing so was very attractive. So attractive that I broke my “Running Cardinal Rule” which was Never Run a Marathon. It turns out that the fundraising aspect was amazing as well of course!
Fast-forward 22 years and here I am still feeling some of the afterglow of that incredible experience and finding myself all the more passionate about the huge benefits of group training. So much so that now I’ve made it my career.
Group training can take many different forms. I’ve found amazing groups to run with through google searches and hooked up with a great group through meetup.com. Groups can also form around clubs. Most running and triathlon/multisport clubs offer group training opportunities to their members and many times, these training opportunities form organically into your new best friends.
Locating organized training groups that target specific races or goals is another amazing way to start and maintain a journey with other like-minded athletes. This is my favorite thing and type of group. Training groups are organized by charity organizations (such as my example above) or are organized by skilled and experienced coaches and community fitness leaders. The goal of these groups is to help people connect through healthy activity and to make a difference in the lives of everyone involved. Coached groups may have the added benefit of actual coaching services and daily training programs in addition to the group workouts. This can be a welcomed perk for any level.
There are (at least) 5 absolutely huge benefits to training in or with a group: Building real connection and relationship with others, Motivation from others, a Supported path to fitness, Purpose-driven mutual benefit, and Supporting a cause or an event as a group. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
- Building Real Connection and Relationship. This is the first and foremost. I hope we don’t need scientific proof to realize this is a true story. There’s something about lives intersecting in a fitness or athletic endeavor that creates a deep connection. Even for the introvert (me, to name just one), this still holds true. When you meet regularly and spend hours sweating together and when you share many conversations over the miles, there begins a new branch in your life. Group leadership can be a real key in this area as organizers and leaders can facilitate this whole process, allowing for regular introductions, welcoming new-comers, connecting one to another, supporting the whole system and being committed to keep it going. I can easily say that my training buddies, who for me have always come from some type of organized program or club, are my family and my closest friends. Even if we’re not still training together, the forged relationship has endured.
- Motivation from Others. Probably one of the most common reasons athletes seek out others with whom to run or workout is because they often can’t find the motivation to do it on their own. This becomes particularly true if we’re training for a longer event and have to be out on the run or bike for hours at a time. When you have some sense of accountability and know that others are showing up and expecting you, it provides the push to get you out the door. You’re always glad you showed up and so are they. Isn’t it better to get outside and play instead of sitting inside, all alone, watching others play without you? To be in the post-run picture instead of feeling guilty when you see the picture without you in it.
- A Supported Path to Fitness. Training in groups, especially those organized by coaches, provide a sense of direction and purpose to your training. You can learn from other participants as well as receive daily training plans that keep you focused on a goal. Fitness is a huge perk and reason why athletes seek out groups to train with. Fitness and performance goals and maybe even weight loss goals are more likely to be reached in this setting. And don’t forget the FUN factor. Being out there with others, even if it’s hard work, is always more fun.
- Purpose-Driven Mutual Benefit. The group setting is not only hugely beneficial for participants, it’s also really helpful for leaders and organizers of groups. Athletes love to share information and for the highly experienced folks, it gives them an important way to give back to the sport and to mentor others. This relationship mimics how I imagine it would feel for a senior citizen spending time passing along precious information to the younger generation and in doing so, retaining relevance. Group training and leader/coach led programs really fill a gap and everyone wins.
- Supporting a Cause and/or a Race Director. This last benefit, it certainly not the least, and is a great way to add purpose to your training and to your sport. As I mentioned in the opening paragraphs, when I trained to raise money for a charity, it was the first time my running was bigger than me and really not about me at all. That is refreshing. While not all group training opportunities engage in fundraising, most groups will often target races they all want to do. Or maybe the group itself is all about training for a particular race. Either way, we have a powerful way to help out our local races and race directors. With so many races to choose from and many being taken over by larger corporate entities, we can support the grassroots, hometown, local gems and help preserve them and their rich history. It just adds that much more meaning to the whole experience!
Running, triathlon and other types of multi and endurance sports are often thought of as individual sports. We know that’s not really true. While we can’t draft behind someone on the bike in a race, we gain better fitness and other important types of experience riding in groups while training. The power of the group is that happy feeling you get when you get up early on a Saturday morning to go run 15 miles with a bunch of friends. How different would it feel if you had to do that alone? No more are the days of the lonely endurance athlete. We are in a team sport so make sure and find your tribe as soon as you can. I hope this has given you some food for thought and encourages you to seek out a club, coached workout groups, race-targeted group training programs, or just grab some good friends and start something organically. There are at least 5 reasons why you should and probably about 20 other reasons besides!
About the Author: Cindy Abrami, BS Nutrition, NASM-CPT/CES, AFAA, Pn1 Nutrition Coach, UESCA Certified Running and Multisport Coach, Schwinn Certified Indoor Cycling Instructor
Cindy is a fitness and nutrition Professional, and elite level masters athlete with a passion to help her community find fullness of health and abundance of life through local race-specific training programs, personal training and coaching and proper nutrition. She is the owner of The Wellness Movement Santa Barbara. And she is in the process of launching The Wellness Movement USA which will bring Group Training Opportunities to communities across the US (coming in 2020). Cindy is a competitive runner, duathlete and triathlete and holds national champion status as a masters runner and is the 2018 and 2019 ITU Sprint Duathlon World Champion (50-54).