Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why join a running team?

I was out for a long run with my teammates a few weeks ago. It was a nice, sunny Sunday morning, and we were loping along in a group of about a dozen, chattering away as runners often do during long runs … you know, friendly banter, bragging, and teasing. We passed a middle-aged couple who were running more slowly than us, and as we went by I heard the woman say to the man, “You see, that’s why I could never join a running team, they are all so fast and serious about it.” My first instinct was to turn around and disagree vehemently … but then I would have been left behind by everyone, and probably would have only intimidated the couple. Sigh.

It did get me to thinking, though, about how misguided and uninformed (ignorant?) such points of view really are. Now I know what you will say, that woman was actually expressing her envy in that moment, and actually feeling inadequate. I get it. On the other hand, it’s often helpful for all of us to have at hand an organized set of thoughts for when someone who is uninformed makes a similar statement, or simply asks, “Why would you want to be on a running team?”

I think the answer boils down to four positive factors: we run on teams because (1) we feel more connected to a community, (2) we learn, (3) we improve as runners, and (4) we share mutual support with our teammates.

Running together with teammates is fun, and often leads to all kinds of socializing even when you aren’t running. Your teammates are people with whom you share an experience (often a peak experience), regardless of your differences in age, gender, attitude, income, background. Not many aspects of life provide you that kind of common bond. On running teams, romances blossom, couples form and often get married, new career paths are found or suggested, and deep friendships are formed. You will share laughs, trade barbs, and feel attached to those around you. You will be a part of something bigger than yourself, because the team benefits from you just as you benefit from the team, regardless of your foot speed.

As part of a running team, you will be given the opportunity to learn, from other runners, more about running and all that it involves. You might have access to expert coaching, or the advice and mentoring might be less formal. Regardless, you will find out all you need to know about your training plans, running form, injuries, diet, gear, etc. You will also experience the “osmosis effect”: by simply being around experienced runners, you will inevitably pick up their good habits, pace, form, breathing, stretching, pre-race routines, gear choices, and more. Teams provide organized plans, for training and for racing. And all of what I just described actually leaves out everything else you might learn through your conversations and friendships with your teammates.

Our sport is pretty simple. It’s based on three principles: frequency, duration, and intensity. You can’t improve if you don’t have all three. Frequency: by being a part of a team, you commit yourself to getting out there for scheduled workouts. Duration: Want to run longer? Good. Know the best way to do that? Just get together with teammates and stretch out your long run together. Works every time. Intensity: If you want to maximize your potential as a runner, you are going to have to push against your limits from time-to-time. I don’t care how intense you are, that process simply cannot be done effectively on your own. You can’t get fast without running fast, and you can’t run as fast on your own as you can with others. Only one member of each running team can be that team’s fastest runner, the rest of us are improving every time we chase that guy or gal as hard as we can.

We are all human, and at various times we can all benefit from getting or giving a helpful pat on the back, or an invitation, or a compliment, or a chance to release a pent-up emotion, or help dealing with a crisis or loss. Looking for support? You’ll find it with those same runners with whom you have already shared so much. As a part of a team, you will get recognition for your own accomplishments (and who doesn’t want that?). Even if your team is made up of a bunch of sarcastic wise-guys, you still know that when they are teasing you they are actually congratulating and complimenting you. Finally, there is safety in numbers, and a set of teammates will provide you with that, which is particularly important if you are a woman.

So, join a team
We run with a team because the team is important to us, and because we are important to the team. If you live in an area with even a little bit of population density, you can find yourself a running team that is a good fit, for you and for them. Don’t hesitate. You won’t regret it.


  1. Great piece, Douglas! Monika introduced me to your blog earlier this week, and I'm really enjoying it! See you soon...

  2. Why don't I see anything on flirting (laugh)? How many couples do we know who met running on the same team?

  3. I couldn't agree more Douglas. Joining the Harriers was by far the best thing I have done. Friendships and memories to last a lifetime!

  4. Douglas,

    This is a great piece. It reminds me of all the things I have gotten from the Harriers over the years. Thanks.



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