Group vs Solo Running – Some Tips from Coach Tory
I believe that it can take a village to raise a runner. With our recent weather conditions, we can often become dependent on the ‘village’ and our incredible running friends. Although running is considered an individual sport, we lean on runners and non runners to support us everyday. If we are lucky, we have a rolodex of fellow runners who help us get the miles in when life (or weather) is pulling in us all other directions. These wonderful running human beings are gifts meant to be cherished. However, the key is knowing when to run with others, or to keep the miles solo. There is a time and a place for both in order to maximize our training, and most importantly, our running fun.
As with most decisions in life, and especially in running – know your ‘why’. When you have the option of running solo or with others, ask yourself ‘what is the purpose of this run?’ Many of our miles would be left ‘unrun’ if it were not for our families and friends providing us with encouragement on the days when it feels challenging to get out the door. If you have a structured training schedule, then knowing the benefits of running solo or with others is essential. Next time there is the option of running with a friend or a group, consider these tips…
1. On easy run days…
I used to think that easy run days were the same thing as fun run days. This is wrong. Just because playing in the forest or frolicking on pavement feels easy and fun, does not mean our heart rate is at a targeted easy pace. Neglecting these easy runs can be a trap, and we can end up minimizing our recovery and running ‘junk miles.’ If you know in your heart (pun intended) that your running friends are at a different fitness level than you, I’d aim to have most of your easy days by yourself. When in doubt, go easier than you think – and keep your heart rate low.
2. On run workout days…
These are specific intervals with a particular warmup and cool down. I’d usually recommend doing these days solo. However, sometimes we get stuck in ‘procrastination station’ and need help and encouragement just to start our warmup. In these scenarios, I recommend running the warmup with a friend if the opportunity arises. The hardest part of a workout, is usually the first few steps.
3. On tempo days…
A tempo is the pace where you can answer one question, but really hope you don’t have to answer a second. It is a sustained pace that feels moderate, but not hard like an interval pace. Usually these runs range from 30-90 minutes in duration. It is rare to find the perfect tempo partner – so I don’t recommend it. If your running friend also has a moderate paced run, there is the option of doing staggered starts.
4. On rest days…
Be careful, and be like Katie.
Me texting: “Jogging today?”
Katie: “Rest day!”
When in doubt, be like Katie. Sometimes our scheduled rest and recovery days do not coincide with those of our best running friend. If we think our running friends are the best humans ever, then these rest days can be a trap. Even if said friend has easy mileage and is begging you for a ‘chill paced adventure’ – stick to your scheduled rest days. Without full rest days, our running fitness stagnates. Our muscles need sleep and rest to recover from our hard work. Rest is rest. Go for coffee with said friend, or give them a phone call to catch up on gossip. Then get back to resting like a boss – or hang out with non runners.
5. On busy days…
With limited hours in the day, many of us squeeze our running in at unconventional times. These are the best opportunities to run solo and get ‘er done. Treasure these solo miles, often when the world has yet to wake up.
6. On planned group adventure runs…
These can be a great way to get to know other likeminded humans and connect with your local running community. On these runs, it is important to ignore the ego. Depending on the group, running your perceived easy pace may mean being at the back of the pack. If it’s a moderate pace day, then there is more flexibility of who to run with. Trust your heart (rate) and go by feel.
Our fitness and enjoyment can be maximized when we know how to differentiate between the importance of running solo versus with others. Know your why, cherish your running village, be your best training partner, and find the satisfaction in running with others and on your own.
Thinking of hiring a coach? You may get more than what you pay for…
Last year I hired a coach for the sole reason (pun intended) to provide structure to my love for running. I had worked with a running coach before, but jogged away from structured training, focusing on running adventures, minimal pressures, and building experiences in the trails and mountains. I was hesitant to return to structured running, as I personally do not mix well with external pressures. I put enough pressure on myself, and needed someone to help alleviate that, while focusing on improving what I love doing – running, adventuring, and exploring the wilderness. Sometimes my love for adventuring resulted in burnout out and even over-training. I wanted to avoid burning out, while continuing to foster my love for adventuring in the wilderness. I called it the ‘Tory don’t burn out Program.’ When I heard about a running coach who focused on play and puppies, I thought I had come across my coaching soulmate (or solemate).
I often view running as a metaphor for life itself. Running teaches me lessons about myself and helps me navigate the world. Working with a coach over the last year, these lessons have become even bigger and more significant. My improvements and increased strength in running have echoed into all areas of my life.
1. The B word
When I began working with my coach, he said, “All I ask of you is that you believe in yourself.” At the time, this didn’t seem like a big task. I thought I believed in myself. I thought that I knew what believing in myself meant, and that I believed in myself as a person and as a runner. Over the last year, my running has provided me opportunities to analyze what ‘believing in myself’ really means. I have learned how to believe in myself even more, and dissected the areas of my life where belief was lacking. The one thing he asked of me, has taught me more about my running and my life than any other workout, training block, or race. My running journey with my coach over the past year has taught me what the B word actually means and feels like.
2. What really matters
My hesitations for working with a coach again included the assumption that there would be too much emphasis on numbers and data. I soon realized that structured running did not necessarily coincide with numbers and data. Putting unnecessary pressure on myself was a waste of energy. Whenever my coach sensed that I was getting caught up in numbers, distance, or pace, he reminded me that none of it really matters. My fun attitude toward running was supported and encouraged. I was relieved to learn that I could improve without being stressed and caught up in numbers that did not matter. Life can be hard enough, and running doesn’t need to be.
3. Operation Zoom Out
This wasn’t just about someone writing a program for me. I had written programs for myself, and for others. I knew what I needed to do to get stronger and faster. This was more about finding someone with whom I shared common values with about running and life. It became about another passionate runner looking at my running objectively; about sharing that process of pushing myself with someone who focussed on the reasons I love this sport; about someone, outside of myself reminding me to zoom out and look at the big picture. It has been about an experienced endurance athlete advocating for me throughout my journey as a runner.
4. Rainbows and Glitter
Life is messy. And running should be fun. Alleviating the task of creating my own running program has helped me organize my life. I now know exactly what my week looks like. I can better plan my adventures and play time with friends. I’m not second guessing every run, workout, or rest day. There is more space in my brain now to tackle other parts of my life. There is more room for rainbows and glitter.
5. The no BS Clause
Signing on with the right coach should include a signature on the ‘no BS clause.’ Having someone in your corner support your endurance goals is a gift I hope to never take for granted. Everyday I have the opportunity to bounce of ridiculous adventure ideas and goals to someone who supports me unconditionally. The odd day I even rant about something that has nothing to do running directly. The best and (sometimes the worst) thing about having a coach (or a good friend) is that they will call you on your crap. In training, and in life, there is no room for inauthentic or unnecessary stuff. A coach helps keep you honest, authentic, and bullshit-less. When my coach senses I am fooling myself, he will address it right away. An athlete I coach recently stated, “There’s no BS.”
6. Finding your Unicorns
Building an authentic, one on one relationship with a coach (and friend) can be priceless. It’s even more wonderful to connect with other like-minded runners and share your passion. In running we do many of our miles alone, in our own head, often struggling to get out the door. Connect with the other runners your coach works with, because chances are they are just as inspiring and hilarious as you are. Find your unicorns, your community, tribe, whatever you want to call it.
The experience with my coach has affected my life beyond getting stronger as a runner. The experience has helped me become stronger as a person. If you are considering a coach, my advice is to stay true to yourself and understand your personal reasons for why you want to work with one. There is no one size fits all. Be you, be your own advocate, and find someone who resonates with what you value in running and in life. Make the choice to trust that person, the process, and yourself to do the work (I mean ‘play’). And don’t forget to believe in yourself. The results may make you a stronger human – both physically and mentally.
Interested in hiring one of our coaches? Check them out here!
Race: Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc, Sept 1st, 2017. 6:30 pm.
Distance: In 2017- Approximately 167 km, with 10,000 M of elevation gain.
Course: Around the Tour Du Mont Blanc in the Alps through France, Switzerland and Italy.
In 2017 the Course was shortened a few km’s the day of the race due to the volatile weather forecast. There was rain, snow, wind, and cold temperatures down to -9.
Results: There were 1685 finishers and 852 DNF’s.
Full Results here: http://utmbmontblanc.com/en/page/107/107.html
Runner: Tara Berry
31 hours, 56 minutes, 22nd women, 204 overall.
Coach Tara shares about her first experience running UTMB:
The start line of UTMB is incredible! Runners started lining up at the start really early (almost 2 hours before)! I saw this happening and I got anxious that I should get to the start line, but I waited until about 30 minutes before to join.
As the fast elite athletes joined the start there were big cheers and announcements throughout. The music, pump up announcements, and energy created an electric atmosphere throughout Chamonix and it felt like everyone in town was there waiting for the race to start. At one point we all joined in making an oath that we would get to the finish line in this grand adventure. It was all amazing, but in hindsight also pretty overwhelming! I have never been that nervous at the start of a race, but at the same time never been to a start line with so much energy and excitement!
Photo: Tara Berry , Tara Berry, Melanie Bos , Alissa St. Laurent
Fellow Canadian runners found at the start line!
I knew that this race starts off quickly and the first 8 km were fairly runnable. I made sure to go out easy and not get carried away at the very start. The first 8 km’s were lined with so many people and children wanting high fives throughout Chamonix. I tried to high five every single kid I ran by that had their hand out. The crowds were mind-blowing and the kids put a smile on my face. Everyone was yelling “Allez, Allez, Allez” along the route, and the aid stations and surrounding villages were packed with supporters with cowbells and cheers. It looked like some locals were even out having dinner parties outside to cheer on the runners. This went on for hours and hours and was one my favorite things about this race!
Photo: Tara Berry
Even though I thought I started easy as soon as we hit the first climb I felt it; my legs didn’t feel good, they felt heavy, way to heavy for so early on. I felt like I was getting passed by 100’s of people (and I was literally being passed by 100’s of runners)! Looking at the stats, at the first aid station 1 hr:39 min in, I was in 338 overall, and I continued to drop back to 357 overall.
More than anything, mentally things weren’t going well. I don’t think I’ve ever got in that much of a negative headspace so early in a race! We were in fog and even with fresh lights it was hard to see, I had stomach cramps, and I felt like the down hills were not coming easy. Usually downs hills are my strength but I was breaking a lot as it was hard to see, and my legs didn’t feel good. I could feel my nagging hamstring a bit and I was getting worried. I had a lot of self-doubt and started making up excuses of why I was going to drop. This was during the majority of the first 40 km’s into the race. Courmayeur was around 78 km; for some reason that seemed like a good place to stop and I planned to drop there. I thought I could make it there even if I was in rough shape and I didn’t really know of any other spot that would be easy to drop and be able to somehow get a ride back to Chamonix. I didn’t plan to have Ryan (my crew and fiancé) meet me until 125 km into the race. There was one-drop bag allowed on course and it was at Courmayeur, so I also knew I wouldn’t freeze as I had a change of clothes!
Things started turning around after about 40 kms’ and I was feeling much better (stomach cramps were gone), my legs were warmed up, and I was moving well on the ups and the downs. I felt like I was gaining back some of the time I was slogging along in the beginning. Looking at the placing you can tell where this happened…(I went from 357 place overall down to 227 by Courmayeur). There were some big climbs and big descents (My fav), and even though it was foggy the area seemed majestic and beautiful. There looked like there were some big drops below and I was loving the rocky terrain. I bailed hard on some slippery rocks, but I was back in a good headspace and I brushed it off and was back up quickly with some minor bruises and scrapes on my knees.
I started gaining some confidence back that I could finish this race! Even though things got harder later on, I became even more determined that I was going to get to the finish line! By the time I got to Courmayeur I had no plans to quit, and the thought of quitting never came back. I took my time to fully change at Courmayeur into new socks, shirt, sports bra, eat pasta, use the washroom etc. I left there feeling refreshed, and the sun had just come up. It was early Sat morning and Mont Blanc was stunning!
Photo: Tara Berry
The climb out of Courmayeur felt tough after a really long descent into town, but the views were incredible and we were rewarded after the ascent up. I was really enjoying myself and I guess you could say I was on a high! This section was my favorite part of the entire race and the only part of the race I took photos. The sun didn’t last very long, and the rest of the time it was raining, or snowing.
Photo: Tara Berry
I was eating OK. I was getting some food down from the aid stations (meat, cheese and soup)! I was using tailwind in my water, which I carried with me along with some other gummies and blocks. Out of everything, soup was going down the best at most of the aid stations (A few times I had 2-3 bowls of the noodle soup just in one aid station)!
We got to a really cold section between Arnouvaz and La Fouly and it started snowing. I had everything on (even a bandana covering my entire face with just enough space to see). Dressed like a ninja, I was still moving steady here, but it was FREEZING cold, and windy as well. The ground and plants were frozen and covered in fresh frost and snow. I thought about adding another layer, but stopping for even a moment to try and put on more underneath was not an option in those winds, so I kept moving as quickly as I could to get to the top of the climb as it meant there was another long descent…the longest of the entire race.
Coming down into La Fouly it started to warm up a bit. On the downhill on the way into La Fouly, I rolled my ankle at some point, however, I could still run on it and it wasn’t too sore.
I got to La Fouly (110 km), and my friends and unicorns from home (Tory Scholz & Tara Holland) had made a video for me that was played on the screen, which surprised me and made me laugh! At the end of the short clip they were yelling “Get out of the Aid Station”. I heard the video come on a 2nd or 3rd time (after other runners had played), and realized I really need to get out of there! I was trying to eat more soup, as it was the only thing going down well at this point. I left the aid station and the downhill continued, some on road through a village. It was pretty quiet and not many people were around during this section.
I knew I would see Ryan soon. I was moving a bit slower on the downhill’s and there was a big downhill section on some roads and then up to Champex-lac. Looking back at the stats, I was in 163 overall at this point.
When I saw Ryan he had my bag of food and clothing all spread out and ready to go! I don’t think I took anything, even though he kept asking me what I needed! I didn’t want to sit down at first and I pranced around a bit, grabbed some pasta, soup, and tried to get some food down but I wasn’t able to eat too much. Ryan asked me if I wanted to change my clothes. I was a bit wet underneath from sweating, but I didn’t feel like changing. I asked him how long I had been there and he said about 15 minutes, it felt like 5. I realized again, I needed to get out of there! I was about 100 feet out of the aid station when I realized it was absolutely POURING and I was getting soaked quickly. I wasn’t wearing my rain pants and I went off to the side of the road under an under-hang to fully put on all my gear. It was already too late, I was soaked underneath and my gloves were soaked through. I opened up some hand warmers I had to try and warm up my hands and they worked well.
Photo: Tara Berry
I was slow out of here to the next aid station even though there was some runnable sections, I was walking a bit. My ankle started really hurting on the downs and I couldn’t really run well downhill anymore especially on any technical parts, I kept rolling it. I was getting cranky- just in time to see all my friends!
From here to the next aid station, it felt like one of the longest sections. At some point there was a long uphill and I was stomping through tons of mud. There was a lone hiker hiking up and he looked like he was going camping up there for the night. I heard a sound behind me and he was yelling at me from down below. I saw him holding something up and realized it was my credit card. Of course it’s something I would lose during a race, but I got it back!
I came into Trient to see my crew again (Ryan, Alicia & Vincent were there this time). Alicia & Vincent had just ran CCC the day before finishing in the middle of the night, and she had still made it out to support! She was being really encouraging and telling me I was doing well and I was going to get to the end. I really wasn’t in the mood for chatting. I told them they should go home and sleep as I was going to be awhile and planned to walk the rest due to my ankle (about 40km to the end)! Alicia thought I could run and she mentioned taping or wrapping it, for some reason I refused and said that I planned to hike the rest!
I left there pretty quickly and started hiking up the next climb and my ankle was now hurting on the ups AND downs. I saw another women coming down in the opposite direction. I asked if she was ok as she was slightly limping. She had rolled her ankle in the mud and said she was done, I told her I also had a bad ankle and tried to encourage her to come with me and that we could hike together! She was worse off than me and said she didn’t think she could make it and warned me to be careful in the mud on the downhills up ahead. I stubbornly stopped and sat on a trunk and wrapped my ankle up the best I could myself with the required bandage we had to carry! This was a gear requirement and ALL of the required gear came in handy!
This did help quite a bit to stabilize it and I found that I could run again on the downs in not too much pain, it was manageable. I wasn’t moving quickly, but I was still moving.
This section had so much mud on the downs! Some of the time I was just trying to stay upright after sliding around corners, and used my poles to stop myself from falling.
I noticed, as it was getting dark I was starting to see things. Some of which I knew was not real once I got closer; (a deer which was a branch), faces and people in large rocks, the trees were forming structures and people, and scary faces were jumping out at me.
I got to the second last aid station Col Des Montets and re-fuelled again on soup.
I think I stopped eating anything after the 2nd last aid station and I don’t know how much I was drinking. As a result, things were starting to get weird. I was with another guy named Oscar, and a couple of other men. We didn’t chat at all, but we were running near each other and sticking together. At one point we stopped for a moment and I looked up and screamed! I thought there was a black panther sitting under a tree up ahead of us. This really felt real to me at the time and swore I saw eyes starting back at me. I told Oscar what was there and possibly hid slightly behind him! He assured me things were ok and he didn’t think he could see anything. He probably thought I was crazy. We continued up and it was gone… I was wanting to get out of the forest by this point, it was creeping me out and I felt a bit trapped and claustrophobic.
Around this time we thought we were back on the same climb a second time, and we were delusional trying to look at the maps we had. We couldn’t figure out where we were, plus there were course changes on this section, which made it even more difficult to figure out. We thought we had somehow gone off course and done a loop going back on the course in the wrong direction. It was dark and hard to tell. We thought we were on the same bridge we had already been on and climbing up the same climb again… We contemplated calling the emergency # for help with where we were, when shortly after a medic came by and happened to be hiking up to the last aid station. He explained where the last aid station was up on the ski hill and continued on. We got to the top of the tree-line and all had trouble seeing where the aid station was, we kept going up through the fog trying to follow one light we could see of a runner or possible the medic ahead of us in the distance, and we finally stumbled our way through the fog and into the last aid station.
Mentally thinking we were lost, whether we actually got lost or not was draining every bit of energy left in me. The fatigue had set in big time and I couldn’t think straight.
Once we knew we were for sure on track and had made it to the last aid station at
La Flagere, it was 8 km downhill to the finish! I stayed with Oscar for some of this, but was mainly alone as I got closer to the bottom of the descent.
My lights were dying and I couldn’t see very well, but at this point it felt too difficult to figure out where my batteries were and I made do with the 3 faint lights I had.
I knew I was close when I could see streetlights and recognized one of the streets running into Chomonix. I came around one of the street corners and up ahead I thought I saw two massive grand stands, with two big groups of people singing. A choir all dressed in white I thought! How lovely! As I got closer it turned out this choir was actually a bunch of big trees with light colored leaves (yup things continued to get weird)!
I continued on and ran through the finish and into my friends arms! I was happy to have made it to the finish line at UTMB when it felt like a crazy second night! It’s an experience I’ll never forget! Chamonix and UTMB is such a special event, I’m excited to go back again (hopefully in 2018)!
Alicia Woodside & Tara Berry
Gear that got me through ALL the weather:
Merino long sleeve shirt, Merino pants, Merino T-shirt & Merino Sports Bra, Salomon skort, Salomon Gloves, North Face waterproof coverings for my gloves, Arteryks Gortex Norvan SL (AMAZING)!!! Inov waterproof pants (very light and compact)!, merino wool socks (2 pairs), a buff, Merino wool toque, Salomon Hat, black diamond poles, Patagonia down vest., hand warmers, Petzl headlamp, two Nebo bike lights clipped onto my pack, Salmon Sense Ultra (Same pair the whole race- these are my favourite shoes to date)!! Salomon 12 L pack.