My running career started when I was 16, as a result of my dad’s bribery.  I logged every mile I ran with him, and I’d accumulate miles to finally buy my swimsuit for that summer. At first I hated almost every step, breathing heavily with an awkward stride (seriously, people laughed at me).  But a couple months later, I would choose to run on the treadmill solo on rainy days and eventually went off to college where I kept up my running routine on my own.

In college I trained for my first marathon and half marathon, still alone. (Cue Celine Dion’s All By Myself).  On those rare days where I was able to scam a friend into running with me, I’d talk the whole time, rapidly firing jokes and telling stories to distract them from what was going on.   I was a lonely, solo runner for those 4 years, but I grew thick skin on those hot, sweaty 20-milers in the Central Valley.

Moving to SF and finding myself at a job focused around running, I instantly made running friends in the Training Program, at work, at local meet-up runs and on Social Media.   I did speedwork for the first time, had friends to compare training plan notes with, and get me out of bed in the wee hours before work.   I can say I went from one extreme: always running alone, to the other: rarely running without someone to head out the door with.

My coworkers know how to make a scene at local races...

Now, as I train for my first 50 Mile race, I’m discovering that a delicate balance between the two is ideal.

Racing Alone: Not a proud moment.

Racing Alone: Not a proud moment.

Running and/or Dancing with Erin.

Running and/or Dancing with Erin.

The balance is different for everyone, but here are some tips for when to run alone and when to grab a pal.

Run Alone…

  • For at least 1 long run during your training program. (18-20 miles).  It’ll teach you mental toughess and show you how strong you are on your own, it prepares you for that critical point on Race Day when you’re sure your legs will soon fall off.
  • At the track.  Of course you should join friends there, but go your own pace so you can really push yourself.  Like the social interaction? Grab drinks/dinner at the pub (Kezar, anyone?) afterward.
  • At your “A” race.  This means the race you’re training for that you never stop thinking about, all of your goals are centered around, and you’re working your butt off to get through.  You’re on your own on that day.
  • When you need to clear your head.  We all have those days, and nothing helps more than just lacing up your shoes and hitting the road or trail alone.

Run with Friends or a Training Group…

  • On your long runs: It teaches you to run at a conversational pace, which prevents over-training and keeps you on track.
  • When running at a time of day when you’re likely to flake.  For me this is the morning (I’ve got my snooze button down to an art form), so setting a running date holds me accountable.
  • At races that are meant for fun or training.  Nothing wrong with the company if your intentions are just to enjoy yourself and no one is attempting a PR.
  • At the track.  (Yes, I put this above).  Meeting friends or a training group at the track helps you remember the work-out, stay motivated, and again, more accountable.
  • If you want to meet new people!  I’m biased, but I think the coolest people out there are runners, so if you’ve moved recently or are in transition, run clubs are the perfect way to get grounded.
  • When you don’t know the trail or route.   I’m new to most of the Bay Area trails, and training for Lake Sonoma has led me to explore some new places.  But it’s really easy to get lost, so, bring someone with you!  Running with people a little more experienced than you can teach you a LOT, and you’ll get tips along the way.
  • At night.  Ladies, be smart and try to bring a friend if you are a nighttime runner.  Or wear a reflective bodysuit and shout loudly as you run.

Cover this in reflective tape, cut out eye holds, and wear this on a nightime run.

So you want to find friends to run with?

  • Look for local Training Groups. (hint: Bay Area kids, Run365 kicks off in January!)
  • Sign up for small, local races. Think 5k/10k and small in numbers.  There are all kinds of runners at these and people tend to “hang around” longer at the finish line and socialize.   Trail races are this way too!
  • Try Meetup.com, there are tons of informal running groups on the site.
  • Contact your local SF Marathon Ambassador and ask them for a recommendation.
  • All the above fail?  Try Social Media! The options are limitless- Twitter, Facebook, Dailymile, Map My Run, Strava, RunKeeper, Athlinks… You’d be amazed how supportive runners are of each others goals even if you’ve never met in person.

Happy New Year running friends!  I’m so thankful for everyone that I’ve run with, who’s cheered me on on Twitter, DailyMile, the SF Marathon blog, and everywhere else!  I can only hope 2012 is as great of a running year for all of us as 2011 was.

jojo