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Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Benefits of Group Running by Liz Robbins

I cut and pasted this from the online NY Times Blog via Jen "The Jinx". Click link above for actual article.


Long distance running may be the ultimate individual pursuit, offering a time for peace, solitude and communion with one’s body. But for many runners, distance running is the epitome of community, a true testament to the uplifting spirit of the sport.


Gill Schumaker, 68, who started the suburban Chicago running group Team NorthShore, says he used to be one of those people who savored running alone and didn’t want to be dragged on an unfamiliar pace. But when he moved from Cincinnati to Chicago, he formed a running group to help make running the area’s flat trails more interesting.

“And now, it’s like I can’t run without a group -– just the camaraderie, and experiencing what’s going on with them,” Mr. Schumaker said. “I learned how to run fast by being with a group. What it was, is that I wanted to be with those people.”

He vividly recalls a morning run a few years ago when members of the group, including an ex-officer of the United States Air Force, the Israeli Air Force and the Russian army, broke into song, each extemporizing a verse about the joys of running. Chanting in perfect cadence (”I don’t know, but I’ve been told…”), they charged to the end of the run.

Rob Udewitz, a clinical and sports psychologist in Manhattan, said many runners change their pace when they run in a group. “There is a phenomenon of running with people where you run faster and easier,” he said.

Call it motivation. Competition. Or accountability.

“It’s easy to roll over and go back to bed if it’s just you,” said Gail Kislevitz, an author of running books and coach of Team for Kids, the New York Road Runners Foundation team that raises money for youth fitness. “You know if you have a group waiting for you on the corner, you don’t want to be the one not to show up.”

Sometimes just joining the group can be the hardest part. “There’s a lot of intimidation for beginning runners early on to go into a group,” Mr. Udewitz said. “They think it’s like gym class and they’ll be the slowest, or be last. But that quickly dissolves.”

When Ms. Kislevitz decided to run her first marathon, a friend elected to help her get through the unknown of the long run. She was hesitant, not wanting to sacrifice her private time where she wrote many of her articles in her head. But then she and her friend started the run.

“We fell into the same pace, and before I knew it, the ten miles were over,” she said. “We were talking about our kids and our marriages and I thought, ‘This is amazing, how could I ever run a long run alone again?’”

She added: “You don’t really notice the pain. If you start whining, someone is going to tell you to shut up.”

The benefits of training with a team extend beyond encouragement to peer analysis, too. “If you do more intense workouts, like interval workouts, that kind of work is so much easier with a group,” Mr. Udewitz said.

Often, the group is formed because of a common purpose like a charity. Sometimes the post-workout socialization is the raison d’etre. (Powered by Dim Sum is my favorite named team in the New York area).

Of course, every runner trains the way their mind, body and schedule works best. The two-time New York City champion Jelena Prokopcuka trains only with her husband, Aleks, in the Latvian beach town of Jurmala. Many Kenyan runners, whether training in Boulder, Colo., or in the Rift Valley of Africa, work as a team in practices.

Time and geography may limit people’s ability to join teams. One woman, Patricia Plasencia, told me how she trained for the 2006 New York City Marathon by herself at 4:30 in the morning in Del Rio, Tex., before she went to work as a physical therapist’s assistant. Every day she would sprint past a pack of wild dogs near the Laughlin Air Force Base until they got used to her scent. Having joined Team for Kids, she used online coaching to prepare for her first marathon. The following year, Ms. Plasencia was the first name chosen in the lottery.

For runners who train in New York’s Central Park, the pack mentality can tend to tip to extremes. On some summer Tuesday evenings in the thick of marathon training, those who do not belong can get swept up in the chaos. Runners from teams, classes and clubs all seem to be rushing in opposite directions on the bridle path and park drives.

So much for the loneliness of the long-distance runner.

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