Running solo is a good practice for everyone. So says Carey May, Olympic marathon veteran of the Los Angeles 1984 Games. “It requires you to have the inner discipline and desire to run alone,” May says, “and gives your mind space to relax without the need for conversation or meeting someone else’s needs or goals.” Beyond that, running alone teaches your own rhythm, your own natural stride and pace, and it removes the pressure brought on by the competitiveness of running with others. May adds that, “more than anything, you have total control and the ability to turn off any dependency on another person.” In short: It’s your run, your time, your space.
When it comes to running, many of us join a club, or rally a workout partner to keep ourselves accountable. While training with others has its benefits, there’s plenty to be said for hitting the track or the trail on your own—especially now, given guidelines and mandates for safe social distancing to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Here are the top benefits of running alone, according to a number of experts in the sport.
Running is one of the most mentally challenging pursuits, where psychological strength is equally as important as physical strength. When you train with a partner, they keep you accountable and push you through the run’s more challenging sections. When you go it alone, you have to rely on yourself for motivation; as a result, you grow stronger. Running alone allows you to step back, examine personal goals, and establish a battle plan to achieve them.
When you train with a team or a group, there’s a pressure to show up to every session and keep pace. Training solo, points out physical therapist Dr. Corey Rovzar, allows you to listen to your body and call the shots. You have the freedom to warm up/cool down in the way that maximizes your performance and alters the pace according to how your body is feeling. Training alone also allows the flexibility to take rest days as needed, which is key for staying injury free.
“It’s important to really listen to your body and follow the 10 percent rule,” says Rovzar, highlighting the idea of increasing your weekly mileage in increments of 10 percent. “In groups we tend to push things, so while it can be beneficial from a motivation standpoint, you need to determine if you’re pushing beyond what you should really be doing just to keep up,” Rovzar adds. “It’s important to allow yourself to build up at your own pace and realize that one training program doesn’t fit all.”
Relaxing may be the last word associated with running, but surprisingly, hitting the trails can be one of the best ways to unwind. When you set out alone, there’s no pressure to go a certain distance or keep up with someone. Instead, you can simply focus on putting one foot in front of the other and soak up the surrounding scenery. With the constant stressors of daily life (notably compounded by the added pressures of self-isolation and stay-at-home orders), quality alone time is an opportunity for a necessary mental-health break.
You’ve heard of our internal alarm clock attuned to circadian rhythms. Likewise, developing internal pacing as a runner is a similar concept that can yield immense results. Concern with only finding a pace that is right for you helps develop your own rhythm so that come race day, you’ll know exactly when to push, and when to hold back. “Solo training keeps you on task,” says Cal Coast Track Club president and longtime coach Bill Sumner. “When you get two or three elite runners together, they tend to go a little quicker. But when you get somebody out there alone, they stay on pace.”
Connect with Nature
In a world dominated by screens, the intentional act of disconnecting is key. Spending time outside comes with a slew of psychological and physical benefits; running provides a platform to maximize time with Mother Nature. While running with a buddy still gets you outside, your focus drifts to the companion and the conversation. To fully immerse, skip the treadmill and log a couple miles at your local wilderness area or park.
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