One of the great dichotomies of running that has always fascinated me is the individual nature of the sport contrasted with the influence and power of a running community or team. For many of us, running is our “me time”. It gives us that therapeutic escape we need to clear our minds, reenergize and gain the focus to confront life’s tasks and challenges. At the same time, running is also our way of connecting with other like-minded individuals, of sharing in our mutual desire to overcome and get better. There is incredible power in the bond that forms as we suffer together, fail together, overcome and achieve together within a running community or team—a power that I believe every runner should have the opportunity to experience.
Before I get into discussing the value of belonging to a strong running community or team, I don’t want to glance over or dismiss the importance of the individual side to running. I believe that there is, and always will be, a place for getting out and spending some quality time with that voice inside our own head. It is in these moments that we confront our fears and insecurities while building strength and confidence through the use of effective mantras and self-talk. This is also where we might find the opportunity to stretch ourselves a bit more without the pressure or the anxieties that might arise in a group setting. Individually, we set goals, put in the work and measure ourselves against those goals. At the end of the day, there’s a reason we call it self-discipline—each of us carries the responsibility individually for consistently putting in the effort needed to progress in our running. While a training plan may look amazing on paper (or screen), it won’t produce anything without our individual commitment to follow it and do the work it prescribes.
As great as the individual side of running is and can be, I believe that it is only made better when it takes place within the framework of belonging to an incredible running community or team. If this is something you’ve experienced, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Take a moment and think about the people who form your running community. Your guys. Your gals. Your crew. What is it that makes belonging to this group so special? Is it your ability to solve the world’s problems among yourselves on a 5 mile run? Or is it the way you can all seem to identify and agree upon that product or service that nobody else seems to have thought of that would be such an incredible success if someone would just do it? It’s always amazing how quickly and the ease with which the miles pass by amid the banter, conversation and company of fellow runners.
Even when we aren’t able to physically run in the company of other members of our team or community, our running experience can still be significantly improved through this association. First, being part of a team or community produces a greater level of accountability. Whether it comes in the form of showing up because we know our teammates are expecting to see us there, getting the work done (either in-person or through digital channels) or having that teammate who calls us out on our BS when we need to be called out, the higher level of accountability in a team setting helps us grow more and get closer to reaching our potential.
In addition to accountability, and perhaps in many cases more importantly so, being part of a team or a running community can provide a valuable source of encouragement that we might not find elsewhere. The truth is, sometimes we can be our own biggest critics. And not in a good way. In fact, one of the most valuable running lessons I’ve learned to date came from a fellow teammate as a means of encouragement—a gentle reminder that sometimes we need to apply the golden rule to ourselves, and treat ourselves with the kindness with which we’d want others to be treated. When we are being too hard on ourselves or when we’re simply unable to see the progress that we’re making over time, our teammates are there to point those things out and help us find the positives we’re overlooking. At the same time, the encouragement we get from our teammates can push us and help us start to believe that we really are capable of accomplishing things we might not have believed possible otherwise. When we find ourselves in a moment of difficulty or extreme adversity, being able to draw upon that encouragement to keep going—to keep pushing—is absolutely invaluable.
While I definitely think that the team camaraderie combined with the presence of greater accountability and encouragement are reasons enough for being part of a running community or team, I think there is something more to be said for the power of being part of team. When we suffer together with our teammates, when we are broken down both physically and mentally in a way that only running can do to us—whether that be from a workout, a race or just a tough run—I think we find ourselves in a position of vulnerability that can be incredibly uncomfortable. And in those moments, we find out that we aren’t alone. That we are supported. That we belong. And that is, in my opinion, what makes being part of a greater community of runners something special.
What has your experience been within your running community? What are the things that make it great for you?
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