Is it better to run on your own or with someone else?

Running solo has become the norm out of necessity rather than choice during the pandemic

Running solo has become the norm out of necessity rather than choice for many runners during the pandemic.

Those of us who previously loved meeting clubmates or friends have had to find new motivation and willpower to keep up the habit without the support of others by our side. The virtual world has helped but it has been a hard transition for many. Some runners have thrived and embraced running solo while others have run much less frequently, finding it difficult to keep up the habit without company on the run.

Adapting to running solo
Once I had to move to running on my own, I noticed how much easier it became to make excuses and cut corners. I could prioritise the most mundane of tasks ahead of running when there was no one else to answer to. It was a little frustrating to notice my speed and dedication dip without others to spur me on, but as the months went on I decided to take my eye off the clock and attempt instead to be mindful on the run, focus on technique, master nose breathing and generally enjoy the time to myself. I'm not as fast as I was a year ago but I have definitely put more time into my running form and feel a stronger runner overall. That might not have happened if it wasn't for the pandemic.

Returning to social running
But despite all those benefits I certainly have missed my running buddies and those conversations that help the miles fly by. As the 5km restrictions lifted recently I finally got to run with a friend. Fully engrossed in the chat I realised I rarely thought about my running technique along the route. As for my breathing, it's pretty impossible to breathe through your nose when talking! The distraction of a running partner meant I spend much less time thinking about how I was running. The shared paths and stories, the sprint finish and the post run coffee are my memories of that run. I wasn't as focused on my running form as I could have been, but is that really such a bad thing?


The perks of a running partner
Every run should have a purpose. While running alone allows us focus on how we run, running together moves us forward in a different way. Someone at your running side can spur you on, share training tips and help you overcome those mid-run dips in energy we all experience. Arranging to meet someone else turns the possibility of a run into a set date in a diary an relies less on our willpower to head out the door. Most importantly, having a regular running partner brings consistency to our routine which is a great foundation for any runner. Being apart from our running "family"' for the past year has highlighted how important our running community is to us. Competition and camaraderie is what many runners have missed. So although we cant meet in big groups yet, we can start to get out in pairs again.

Different runs, different buddies
You may already have found your perfect running partner, but if not, choose someone who has similar goals to you. You might be looking for a running buddy to help you run consistently or maybe you need some healthy competition. You might even choose a running partner to help take you out of your comfort zone or introduce you to new running routes. I'm secretly hoping my running buddies encourage me to get into the sea after runs this summer, something I know I won't do when on my own. You can have different running partners for different training sessions too – one for speedwork, one for weekend adventures or one to run socially on a midweek evening. But don't forget to save at least one run in your week for solo running too. You have built the skill of running on your own this past year, don't lose that completely. A balance between solo running and social running is the winning combination for many runners.

Reignite your passion
If you are one of the runners who has lost fitness and confidence in running as running solo didn't work well for you in the pandemic, pick up the phone and get in contact with someone you used to run with in the days before Covid. Arrange a meetup, have the chat and reignite the passion you had for running a few years ago. Remove all pressure on hitting speed or distance targets and decide to walk/run your route. The goal should be to enjoy the time together and the run is just the vehicle to help you get out there and do it. When you finish, arrange the next date. Knowing you will meet again will help you get out yourself in the interim and this is where you will build your consistency in your running comeback.

In it together
We can accomplish so much more when running with others than just running alone. This is why running clubs and groups are so successful. To be able to combine fitness and friendship is a wonderful gift. You can encourage each other whether it be that sprint finish, up those hill intervals or even let off steam about a work problem or a family issue. As we head into our "outdoor summer" the focus has been on parks and picnics to date. You can still do all that, but why not start with a run and enjoy the picnic all the more after. Most importantly though, don't wait for someone to ask you to go. Take the first step. Ask someone to join you for a run. You won't look back.

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!). 
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!

- Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ieMary's new term of virtual programmes start next Monday, May 10th.