Yessiree! Saturday morning I laced up my shoes and got out in time to meet with the Cal Coast group. It's been a number of weeks since I've run with the group. I've got to admit - it sure beat running double digit miles by myself. I've been running on my own ever since my long runs crept up over 12 miles and the weather started getting hot. Best I can tell, it's been about 8 weeks or so since running with the club. It was strange to actually talk to others while on the move.
Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I'm primarily a lone runner. I like to put my shoes on and head out on the trails myself. I use the time as my therapy. I can use the hour or two a day to detach myself from the daily stresses of the job and to keep from biting my wife's head off when I get home after a tough day.
But, it wasn't until this weekend that I realized there are benefits of running with a group. Since I was coming off an extended two week illness, I really held back on my pace. But I found myself out with the lead group. Huh? these are the "fast" folks. Okay. The really fast folks may not have shown up today, but still - I shouldn't be out here running comfortably with this group! I never would have guessed that my running has improved to this point if I had not run with the group.
My point is that a runner can certainly use a group as a way to gauge improvement. Sure, there's always the watch and checking your pace this week versus last week, but it a totally different effect when you can actually see the improvement. Now, I still think there is a big drawback to group training. One of the ways that I have been improving the past months is by running long and running slow. Other than a quality workout, I use my watch to make sure I am not running too *fast*. I spend a lot more time paying attention to my heart rate than I do my pace. I really try to keep my aerobic workouts at a heart rate less than 85% of max, and my long runs at less than 75% of max. Add the group dynamic and it would be tough for me to hold back. Especially when all the nubes leave me in the dust. And there is nothing that can hurt your training more than to be running too many miles too fast. A lot of people run out of gas on a nine or ten miler. It's because they are running in lactate threshold trying to keep up with a group thinking that running faster is better. Well, by definition, lactate threshold is the speed you can hold for approximately one hour. For most of us weekend warriors that is max pace for somewhere between six and seven miles. Beyond that your body will start turning from glycogen to lactate for it's primary energy source, which really defeats the purpose of the long run.
So my advice? Group running can be fun. There are the obvious social benefits. You can use the group to gauge your improvement over time. But, avoid the need to compete with your running pals. Remember the goal of the long run - to be on your feet for extended periods of time. This stimulates your body's ability to produce, store and use glycogen - your primary energy source in long distances. You should not be running so fast that you run out of gas. Slow down and enjoy the scenery with your friends!
Oh - the stats? 10 miles at an easy pace. I picked it up the last three miles and dropped sub 9:00 just to blow the old pipes out. The cold seems to pretty much be a thing of the past. I had to deal with a little *snooze* (snot ooze), but otherwise had a decent run for the first time in several weeks!
Now that the weather is cooling down and my miles are winding down, it will be nice to run with people again.