Over the course of my running career, the days I ran alone far outpaced the number of times I ran with other runners. In many of the years, from the latter half of fall until the beginning of spring during a given season, I didn’t run with anyone. Later, during the racing season, I might have run with someone else on average maybe once a week.
Now for my reasoning: Running alone, cultivated a sense of self-reliance. I evolved to push my own limits without the need to have others present. As a result, many of my fastest runs occurred during solo training efforts; remember my “ultimate training partner” from the previous blog? Well, my usual training schedule included two hard runs during the week, followed by a race or solo effort (also run at race pace) on Saturday. Most often, the hard runs were staggered over Tuesdays and Thursdays, and were the short distance of only 3 miles (this was sometimes increased to 5 or 7+ miles, depending on the time of year). Typically, the Tuesday 3-miler would be completed in a time that was anywhere from 20 seconds to a minute slower than Thursday’s run. Much depended on how my legs felt after the previous hard Saturday effort and Sunday’s long run. Still, both were sustained efforts run at maximum intensity. My hard runs took place on a loop that began and ended at the intersection of my driveway and the street. I’d bolt from the starting point recalling the previous efforts of my “ultimate training partner” and the mileage splits required to match or exceed them. On completion, my 3 mile efforts on Tuesday would be run in the range of 15:45 – 16:30 minutes/seconds, while Thursday’s typical run (after I’d gotten the junk out of my legs on Tuesday) would be completed in the neighborhood of 15:10 – 16:15 minutes/seconds.
For someone who was never considered to “have much leg speed”, at least by those I was often racing against, it was imperative that I be able to run these very hard efforts on my own. This enabled me on race day to focus on my own race without regards to who else was in the race. My racing was indeed geared toward winning, but I didn’t have to be concerned about what others were doing in the race. Training so hard gave me the racing confidence to go out as fast as I wanted, surge as I felt the need, and start my kick when I was ready to do so; all without feeling the need to wait and see what everyone else was going to do.
If you’ve ever watched a marathon or track event on TV, you’ll see that the majority of the “top runners” (and I use that term very loosely) run together in a pack―all waiting to see what the next guy is going to do. While this provides the illusion that all those folks have a chance at winning the race, you’ll see the pack quickly devolve when the top runners start their kicks. This brings me back to another blog I wrote in which I discuss how that kicking strategy works just fine, if you’re one of the guys with the best kicks. But, when you’re always waiting to see what the other runners are going do, and they’re doing the same thing too, it provides the perfect setup for running at less than your best. With so many of today’s runners following this strategy, it also means that few people are reaching their running potential.
Training solo also assured that a given run remained in-line with my desired effort on that particular day. If I’d planned to have an easy day, it remained easy. If I’d planned to run hard, no one else placed any restrictions on how fast I was going to run. Further, if I was having a good day, I could run faster if I chose to do so; whereas if I was having a bad day, I could back off or even call it a day without feeling guilty that I’d let someone down. Like I said, it created self-reliance. On the days I did run with other people, I could be in the moment and enjoying their company. On the days I raced, I was freed to run to my potential.