This article was written by American Trail Running Association advisory board member Kriste Peoples, a Denver-based outdoor enthusiast and guide, runner, writer, and mindfulness meditation teacher. When she’s not out adventuring along the trails of Colorado’s Front Range, Kriste is writing about it or recovering with carbs in a local eatery.
Perhaps you’ve heard the adage: if you want to go faster, you go alone, but if you want to go further, go together. I’ve found this to be mostly true of running in groups, and I’d add that you can also go faster, and get better, together. Here are a few things that a running community can do for you if you let it:
Deepen your sense of adventure
If you’ve ever wanted to break out of your running routine and explore more challenging trails, but didn’t want to go it alone, reaching out to your trail community can help. You might be surprised to find there’s often someone in your running network who’s up for an adventure on little notice. Running in groups also takes the pressure off of one person to be the sole holder of cumbersome gear and logistical details. And when more people share the responsibility of bringing it all together, it increases the stoke levels. A lot.
Improve your running
Trail running in groups with athletes of different skill levels can help improve your technique, efficiency, form, and overall performance simply by watching them go. And if you’re in the market for new gear, noticing what runners in your community are using – and asking them what they like best – goes farther than countless hours and money spent online or in stores. This one’s a sort of improvement by association, and while it might not be as involved as a rigorous training schedule, just being active in the community in these ways can result in real running benefits.
Cultivate a sense of belonging
By definition, community means we’re made up of all kinds of people with different histories, goals, beliefs, and experiences, yet we bond around a shared interest; in this case, it’s trail running. This affiliation alone can be the special sauce that keeps those relationships thriving. Put another way, on the trail it’s more important to know whether someone’s got enough water and layers than it is to know their politics. On the trail it’s also less important to know what people do for work, or where they went to school than it is to know that they can literally go the distance. This kind of bonding often defies the ways we might otherwise relate to different people, and that’s a very good thing.
Expand your support network
Trail running in community can mean we see each other through a full range of emotions. If you’ve run consistently with a group for months or years, odds are you’ve fallen in with people who share your passion, if not your pace. Other kinds of sharing include the details of daily life – from the mundane to the magical. We know life doesn’t stop at the trailhead, and any issues we’re experiencing at home or work might show up on the run along with us. In my own experience, I’ve celebrated weddings and housewarmings, grieved the losses of loved ones, and offered home cooked meals to friends recovering from surgery. Running in community can surprise us by revealing how much we’ve come to count on each other in ways we didn’t expect.
Refine your why
There’s nothing like being part of a group that can help sharpen your goals, preferences, and individuality. If you’ve ever been part of a family, you probably know what I mean: we learn more about ourselves through the company – and community – we keep. Trail running can be an incredibly solo experience, and being in a group can also help us explore our uniqueness in new ways. For example, if racing isn’t your thing, you can find ways to engage that still keep you connected to your group. Defining what distance and training works for you can also come courtesy of realizing what you don’t like. Feeling more drawn to running for pleasure? Or maybe you’re looking to ramp up the challenge factor. It’s not that you can’t determine these things on your own, but running in community can provide an edge that will help you discover aspects of your sport that sharpen the untested and best in you.
‘Community’ has a range of meanings. From a thriving assembly of people who work, worship, live, or play in the same spaces, to the sense you get just by being connected to folks who share the same values and interests. However you define it, community is a large part of what happens naturally when we run together: we support each other; we hold each other accountable; we endure. When you show up for your community, allow yourself to be surprised by the ways it can do the same for you.
[Editor’s Note: Are you ready to join a community of like-minded runners? Check out our national directory of trail running clubs.]