Most of my friends know that I lay low on Friday nights because I get up early on Saturday’s to run with my training group. This alone can seem crazy to a non-runner (in the summer/fall we meet at 7am!), but I’ve found that a lot of runners I know often want to know, “Why do you pay to run with a group?” There are plenty of free running groups around and there is always an option of just getting together with friends for a run, but I have found that training with my group is worth every penny.
For my first two half marathons I trained by myself. I’m glad I did, it gave me the opportunity to figure out what worked and didn’t work for me without having outside sources influencing that. When I got ready to train for my third half marathon, I decided to raise money for the American Cancer Society. By joining the group I actually got a free membership to my training group which I thought would be a great way to try it out before committing. Here’s why I returned the next season and signed up for the entire year in 2015:
Set Pace Groups
Our training group is pretty darn big and there are set pace groups for everything from a 7:30/min mile to a 13:00/min mile and even run/walk and walk groups. Having organized pace groups means never having to run alone or run too quickly to keep up with others. Doing Saturday long runs too fast isn’t helpful, but that isn’t an issue in my group. This is a perk over a “show up and run” group where you may not have someone there running your pace that day. The runners in my group are very committed so even when the weather is less than favorable, there is always at least a few people for each pace group.
Set Pace Coaches
Each pace group has its own set of pace coaches, just like during a race. This means I can turn my watch on, get in the group with my friends, and chat away without having to worry if I’m speeding up or slowing down. The pace coaches are generally more experienced runners that are always willing to give advice and always cheering on the runners in their groups.
Our training group seasons coincide with specific half and full marathons. For the fall, it’s the Columbus Marathon/Half Marathon. Each Saturday we have a set number of miles so there’s no wondering about how far people are planning to run. With the size of the group, there are always runners in each pace group looking to do a few miles before or after if they have an earlier race in the season and need more miles that day. Generally there are a few people running different races. If not, at least the bulk of the mileage run that day is with a group instead of solo!
I met my Ohio best friend when I started running with this group and have built many other close friendships along with that one. There really is a bond that happens when you’re consistently rolling out of bed early every Saturday morning to go spend an hour or more running. I couldn’t imagine my life in Columbus without the friend’s I’ve made in my running group. Though camaraderie is common amongst runners, being part of such an organized group really makes us feel like a team.
Water & Snacks
Our group sets up water/Gatorade stops along the trail and has bagels and granola bars when we finish. One time they even gave away packs of Cliff Shot Bloks. This is great since there is always a place to refill a water bottle and on shorter runs there’s no reason to bring one at all! They even have baskets to throw our car keys in so we don’t have to bring them along.
Organized Speed Work
Once a week there is an option of attending a speed work session. This is great for those that don’t really know what to do with their speed work or won’t/don’t want to do it on their own. The work out is sent out the night before so everyone knows what to expect. The group starts with a one mile warm up and finishes with a one mile cool down. Though I haven’t attended speed work during my half marathon training, I will likely head to a few sessions during marathon training since I will be doing my long runs at a much slower pace to keep my heart rate low.
Overall, paying for my running group is a very inexpensive investment where the benefits outweigh the cost. A friend of mine tried to go to a free running group in a different city while on a visit and said it just did not compare – there was disagreement on pace and mileage and only a handful of people showed. I look forward to Saturday morning’s and I spent every Saturday during our off-season in May running with friends I’ve made through the group. I am looking forward to getting back to the group next weekend and building new friendships in a different pace group while training for my first marathon!