Athletics clubs offer coaching and camaraderie and can help you reach your training goals. But what about the blissful solitude of running? Two writers present their arguments for and against joining a running club
‘Joining a club is one of the best things a runner can do’
Running is that time you have all to yourself, isn’t it? It’s the ultimate “me” time, when you can be at one with nature and get away from it all, when you can reflect on life’s important matters, or even when you can push your body to the absolute limit in glorious, miserable solitude. So why on Earth would you want to spoil all that by joining a running club and having other people rabbiting on in your ear during a steady five-miler? And anyway, clubs are just for those at the front of the pack or those who take their running too seriously, aren’t they?
Well, actually, no. Deciding to join a club is one of the best things that any runner, whatever their level, can do. Club membership can often instigate big improvements in performance and, more importantly, provide enduring memories, experiences and companionship.
We all run for different reasons, whether it’s to lose weight, keep passably fit or, in some cases, to enter and maybe even win races. But whatever the motivation for lacing up the trainers and hitting the roads and trails, there’s a compelling reason why being a member of a club can help make running even better.
Not everyone runs to race and clubs are fine with that, but if running to compete is your thing, then clubs provide a range of events from road races to cross country, to get the competitive juices flowing. The vocal and moral support from team-mates can often be the difference between a good and a great run, as can the opportunity to run with and compete against runners of similar or even slightly better ability.
Motivation can also be an issue for some and a peek out of the curtains on a cold, wet January night can sometimes result in pyjamas rather than Lycra being pulled out of the wardrobe. Yet knowing that others will be with you to share the experience of pounding the pavements in a howling gale can often be the difference between staying in and getting out the door.
Likewise, while most of the population cares little about such matters as pace per mile, weekly mileage or a particularly pleasant, undulating 10-mile trail route you’ve just found, members of running clubs quite patently do, meaning that friendships are made, and great advice from like-minded individuals can be absorbed.
Anyone who’s ever even seen a local road race, let alone ran in one, will know that club runners can be found at the front, the back and everywhere in between. Clubs are certainly not elitist and generally cater for everyone from the super-competitive to the recreational jogger, so there’s no need to fear being left behind on group runs or worry that being “slow” will make you stand out. Really, nobody cares and there will always be someone else of the same standard.
But it’s a big commitment, isn’t it? One of the great things about running is the freedom to do it wherever and whenever you like. Surely having to turn up to a specified place at a specified time is asking too much? Again, unlike team sports, clubs don’t compel members to turn up. It’s flexible and everyone just runs with the club as and when they can, whether that’s twice a week or twice a year. At least the option’s there.
Joining a club can only enhance the experience of being a runner, whether through competition, group running, support or advice. Clubs are “no pressure” environments that add to a runner’s options. They don’t replace the solo runs we all enjoy, they just provide an occasional alternative. There really are no downsides.
‘Nothing can beat going for a run with nobody else’
As Dean notes, there are several potential benefits of being part of a running club, including being able to easily compare heart-rate monitors or head torches and being part of an organisation that can do sterling work putting on events for the rest of us to take part in.
But there’s nothing that can beat going out for a run with nobody else. A survey by Runners World stated that 60% of respondents listed their favourite running companion as “myself” (compared with 18% who said people from their club or team), and it’s not difficult to see why.
Running can be a great way to escape from the hurly-burly, elbow-in-the-ribs, white noise existence that many of us seem to have. Part of the appeal of running is the ability to lace up a half-decent pair of trainers, find somewhere to secrete your house key and simply disappear out of the door without having to find a ball, bat, racquet, team kit, javelin or whatever other accessory you might require in other sports.
For while running clubs and running with others do have their merits, some of us want to have a bit of time and space where we don’t have to talk (or listen), where we can decide what route we choose or how fast we want to go, where we can change direction whenever we like. Even if you can’t wholly “forget” everything, you can take the time to think.
We conceivably might want to save running with others for actual races, to avoid being led down a path (literally) that turns into a churning quagmire of a field just because a gnarled club veteran thinks it’ll put hairs on your chest, or across a busy road where one person crosses after another like lemmings, without noticing that the lights have changed. There’s no doubt that running clubs serve a purpose but they certainly aren’t for everyone.
More than anything else, the sense of freedom brought on by being out for a run by yourself can be a feeling that’s tricky to match. It’s not always perfect, of course, and occasions where you find yourself plodding headfirst into a January rainstorm on a slate grey suburban housing estate don’t lend themselves to getting all dreamy about solo running.
But there are also times when you really can feel as if you’re enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Go out for a run on a Sunday morning and head into the city to see it as it appears for only those few hours a week, when even our biggest metropolises seem to be taking a breather on the morning after the night before.
Or do few miles somewhere surrounded by green space, try to spot some wildlife and lose yourself a bit. Forget about who might be tweeting what, the flashing red light on your BlackBerry and the day-to-day grind, put some music on if you like, and go outside to run how you want.
Have you joined a running club? Has it helped you, or did you find all the chatter and the group running too much to bear? Let us know in the comments below.