Lone wolf or part of a pack?

How much of your running do you do alone as opposed to with other people? How much training do you do with one of your biggest competitors?

This was a hot topic on our recent 'Run like a Kenyan' Masterclass and it prompted me to re-read an article I wrote over a decade ago on training with the Kenyans (as opposed to just running in Kenya). You can get the article at the bottom of this piece.

The discussion got me thinking about what is an optimal balance, especially for an athlete who wants to improve. Whether its the Kenyans, US College teams, Lydiard's Kiwis or the club runs of 1980's Britain then training in groups has been a significant factor of the dominant running cultures.

The benefits are multiple and to pick on just a few.

Different runners have different strengths - in the late 90's I trained with guys like Alex Rosen and Will Davies as part of a group in London. They were 800m runners and hanging on to them while running 300m reps improved my speed in a way that I could never have achieved solo. Equally, following me for 15km of long endurance efforts on winter Saturday mornings gave them an endurance base that would otherwise have been out of reach.

Good day/bad day - if i'm having a bad day then following rather than setting the pace gives me some respite. This was part of the genius of the Kenyan groups I ran with. There were always some fresh legs to take the lead and the tired ones could focus on running relaxed.

Sense of team - when i've got an appointment with the pack I don't want to let them down and so I make sure that I get there. Its all too easy for things to get in the way of our running and commitments to other runners help hold us accountable. After all, its consistent training that leads to improved performance.

When you think about it this makes total sense. The principles are no different from working together on a business project or being part of a family system. The different skills of the team make innovation and progress possible, the mutual support helps us through the hard times and colleagues hold each toes to the fire to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts (at least in a high performing team anyway, but thats a topic for another day). 

As for training with your competitors, thats more of a psychological stretch. Why would you help the person who is trying to beat you to get fitter? Look at it like this. In a race there may be dozens or thousands of competitors trying to beat you. If you can work with one (or some) of them in training to take you both to a higher level then the total number of serious competitors has just gone down. Mo Farah and Galen Rupp worked like this before the London Olympics and hey presto, Gold and Silver.

Now its time to ask yourself: What is the right amount of time to spending training with my pack and what can I contribute to make it stronger?

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This is the article from the British Runner magazine mentioned above.