With winter upon us (at least up here in the northern Midwest) a lot of us runners either take time off the heal old injuries (that has been me recently) or head for the treadmill. After figuring out how to dress for cold weather running, I began avoiding treadmills and found running outside in the elements to be great.
Which takes me to the title of this section - during the winter we tend to do more solo running, simply because there are fewer crazy people willing to run outside.
I find group runs to be somewhat social events; there is a fair amount of conversation, I like that I can meet new people, and it makes the run go by fairly quickly. I do learn some new things, but aside from getting my miles in, what did I get out of the run?
When I'm running solo, I'm constantly thinking about my form, the consistency (or lack of) my pace, and meeting the goals of my run. That doesn't happen during a group run. During a group run, the goal is mostly about getting the agreed to miles in... Somebody sets the pace and away you go.
I believe that solo runs give me the opportunity to judge myself from a very particular perspective. I start out with a goal for that run, be it long or short, and then I measure myself against my progress towards that goal. I calculate and measure my splits, I try to be conscious of my form (are my feet landing under my hips, are my arms swinging in line with my motion, or am I flailing them around, are my hips forward, is my head up, etc). I'm not totally geeky about this 100% of the time, but I do try to run as efficiently as possible.
The other thing that I get out of solo runs, particularly long runs, is the confidence that I can do it on my own. At the end of the day, when I'm out there running a distance event, I know that it is all up to me and me alone. The support of a group is great, but in the end it will be my legs, my stamina, and my ability to persevere over whatever ails me that will get me across the finish line.
So even though I'm not a big fan of group runs, I have admit that it was by getting involved with a group that I learned that I could run at a faster pace than that which I had become accustomed to running. During my first group run, I remember being shocked at what a quick pace the group trotted off at (in retrospect it wasn't that fast...but faster than I was accustomed to) but I kept up with them, albeit bringing up the rear. The route we were running went through a bit of downtown so we to deal with traffic lights, and I recall panting "red light, red light, give me a red light" so that I would have a chance to catch my breath (and catch up). I noticed after a while that the lead guy eventually started timing the lights in my favor - he must have heard me (or sensed some measure of my distress). Those traffic lights were the only way I made it through the run! We did 9 miles+ at the fastest pace I had yet to run, effectively pushing me into a new level. That may not of happened if I was only running solo. I had gained a whole new level of confidence because of it!
There was another time with a different group that we did trails - a totally new experience for me and something that I may not of tried on my own. Now I'm hooked on trials and would like to do more.
The point of all this is that I think that there is place for group runs and solo runs, and it is not a bad idea to do both. But for the winter, it will mostly be solo...