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Finlay McAndrew  •  Running Training •  02.04.2020 •  11 min read

Running solo – The benefits of running alone

Some runners prefer to go out by themselves while many runners love the community aspect of running and will arrange their running around being able to go out with others. This might be going along to a local running club/group, meeting a friend or going to parkrun on a Saturday morning.

There are many benefits to be gained from running with others. You can pick up helpful tips and get advice on aspects you might be unsure about. Meeting others or going along to a running group acts as a real encouragement to go out as it creates a sense of accountability. Friends don’t want to let each other down if they’ve arranged to get together and runners that attend a club or group sessions can feel a similar way. The social facilitation aspect of running in a group or with others is a powerful motivator to push harder and do more.

However, there are multiple benefits of running alone and getting out there by yourself, and it is unlikely that these will be developed through running with others. There are going to be times when it is more convenient to go out by yourself so it is important to know what the benefits are and what can be achieved.

Benefits of running alone

A lot of runners end up running at the wrong pace and they either do their slow runs too fast or their fast runs too slowly. Very few people who run together are actually the same level of fitness and anyone following a training plan usually ends up compromising the quality or intensity of their run as a result of adapting their pace to meet the needs of another. Runners often go harder than they’re meant to so they can keep up with a group/running partner or go too slowly as they don’t want to leave someone behind.

Properly pace your runs

Running alone enables you to pace your effort properly and train at the intensities that are right for you. This is incredibly important for runners who are training for events. Training effectively means avoiding the ‘Grey Zone’. A lot of runners fall into the trap of doing all their running at a similar intensity and they find their pace is always the same. This often results in runners ‘plateauing’ and not achieving goals they’ve set for races. Running alone means that you can go out and make your easy runs actually easy and you don’t have to worry about keeping up with someone else. Achieving a goal race time requires focused training at specific paces around your target pace. Unless you’re training with someone that is going for exactly the same time, running alone will help you run at the most optimal pace for your goals.

For more information about the benefits of polarised polarised training and utilising different intensity zones read our article: Running training – The benefits of polarised training.

Woman running on wide road

I do 90-95% of my training alone as I want to achieve the best time possible in races. You should do a high proportion of your running alone if you want to achieve a specific time in an event. I plan the pacing of my sessions around the outcome I’m aiming for and then it’s just a case of executing the process.

Dig deep

Mental toughness is an important aspect of training and racing that is sometimes overlooked. For example, the ability to work harder, push further and deal with pain is improved with doing more training. This is called being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Running alone will build considerable mental toughness as you’ll have to rely on yourself for motivation. Running with others is a great motivator but that will then reduce your ability to increase your mental resilience if you do the majority of your training with others.

This might be a sobering fact but running never gets easier, it actually gets harder in the respect that you can push more. Athletes that run low 2-hour marathons for example are pushing their physical limits to the absolute extreme for almost the entire race. They’re exceptionally fit but they’ve also developed a level of mental stamina that enables them to push harder than most normal human beings.

The benefits of running alone and improving mental toughness are multi-faceted. You’ll improve your ability to push and keep going in training runs and races when the easy option is to slow down or stop. You’ll also find it easier to get out the door when your motivation is low. For example, bad weather might not seem like such a barrier for getting out and doing your run. The mental toughness and increased resilience achieved through running alone can transcend into other parts of your life too. We all have to deal with adversity and challenging times in our lives. The coping mechanisms that are developed through running can apply to dealing with everyday challenges and we can be better equipped to deal with stress as a result.

Run to your own schedule

Newer runners who are building up their running, but not necessarily training for a specific time in an event, will also significantly benefit from running alone. While it’s good to run with someone else or a group, you might find you make up an excuse for not going out if your running partner cancels or the group gets called off. Going back to one of the points just made, running alone will improve your ability to be more self-reliant. The most important element to achieve in running is consistency. Consistently running is the key to getting the most mental well-being benefit, fitness improvements and making it a habit. Running consistently will usually mean running alone sometimes as planning every run with someone will be difficult so getting used to going out and spending some time running by yourself is a very good idea.

Free your mind

I love the mental space and freedom that comes with running alone. It’s amazing the thoughts and memories that can pop into your head when you’re out there that would never come about otherwise. There are rare moments when we lose track of time, have complete focus and everything just feels easy. This is called ‘Flow’ or is also commonly referred to as being in the zone.

Athletes that perform exceptionally well in competitions usually talk about being in some sort of flow state that enables them to execute a perfect performance. There are different states of flow and we can dip in and out of it. It’s not something that we can actively control at ease and bring about on command. Running alone and being with your own thoughts will help you learn how to fall into states of flow and improve the chances of it happening more regularly. This feeling would be particularly hard to achieve while running with someone else. It’s understandable why runners who run alone infrequently find it difficult to do so as they haven’t developed some of the key skills necessary to do it.

Stay positive

In a similar vein, being able to have your own thoughts when you’re running may have more positive mental well-being benefits. Running alone will give you a chance to think about matters in a way that you would otherwise rarely get the opportunity to do. I find my decision making and thought process is better when I’m out on a run. I’m more rational, logical and considered in my approach to concerns and stresses. The answers I’m looking for which seem so elusive most of the time can come to me when I’m out there just listening to my breathing. For more information about the benefits of running purely for mental well-being read our article on why running is good for anxiety.

Aids that will help you when running solo

Listen to music

Music is a powerful motivator and can significantly improve athletic performance. There is plenty of evidence to show how listening to music can improve time trial performance across various sports for example. If you’re running alone more often and you are worried about getting bored or losing motivation then it can be a good idea to listen to music. It will usually make time pass faster and acts as a distraction. Specific songs can bring about certain emotions that will help motivate you at difficult points. I listen to music during certain sessions that I know I might need a bit of additional help on. This will be higher tempo music as studies have shown that songs with roughly 120-130 bpm are optimal for improving performance.

If you are going to listen to music, make sure they’re safe for running and that they let in ambient noise so you can hear traffic. AfterShokz headphones use bone conduction technology so you can listen to music while still being able to hear the other noises around you.

You can also use these headphones and listen to music in most running races. Some races don’t allow the use of traditional headphones with music for safety reasons. There are some events that ban the use of headphones and music completely. I race triathlon and we’re not allowed to listen to music. I do a lot of training without music so that I am properly prepared to cope with the demands of racing.

Time your run

I wear a Garmin GPS watch for every session I do. For me, as I’ve already touched on, training at the right pace is incredibly important but I also find measuring my performance helps make the time pass by faster. Even though I can see the overall time and distance, breaking down each kilometre turns the run into small measurable sections that actually means I forget about the overall distance and just focus on the process.

Close up of man wearing Garmin watch

Garmin GPS watches can also act as a type of virtual coach and help motivate you to go out running alone. You can download training plans on to some models that will tell you when to run easy and when to do some faster efforts. I find it incredibly satisfying setting targets and goals in training that I then go on to complete. It just motivates me more if I don’t achieve them. Goals and objectives can be anything as well. You could set a target of completing 3 runs in a week or a target average amount of distance each week for a month.

Track your efforts

Strava is a popular app that runners use to log their activities on. Strava create virtual challenges such as climb X number of meters in a month, complete a 5km or run X number of miles in a month. Signing up to Strava and setting some targets can help with motivation and increase the chances of being more consistent with training. You can also join clubs and communities on Strava. It was touched on earlier about how runners love being part of a community and how this can help motivate them to run. Being part of a virtual club can be a very strong impetus in getting someone out for a run so it’s well worth looking at.

Stay safe

A lot of runners go out with others because of the safety aspect. This is a very valid reason to not run alone but there are some things to consider. If it’s possible, run in the daylight as that will be much safer when running alone. Tell someone, a family member or friend, that you’re going out for a run. You can take this one step further by using a tracking method. There are various apps on phones that allow someone to track your position. Some Garmin GPS watches have a feature that enables someone to ‘Live Track’ you so they can see your location plus rate of progress. This is a great safety feature for anyone concerned about running alone.

Runner sitting down with mug

Consistency is king

There are so many ways to run and the overriding message is that no one way is best. There are multiple merits of running with others and then also running alone. The merits and results of running alone versus running with others are potentially more quantifiable and tangible from a performance point of view. The mental and physical adaptations from being out there by yourself can translate in to a greater ability to perform more consistently. These adaptations range from better pacing, more mental stamina and increased resilience.

Consistency is key in every aspect and is the single most important element of running. The best way to get faster, get injured less and improve race performance is consistency. The best way to get to the most mental well-being effects from running is consistency. This doesn’t mean that you have to run for 90minutes every day, it means that you are consistently getting out there and doing some running each day or every other day and not adding too much volume too quickly. This might be 15-20minutes of running every other day.

Running is an incredibly practical way of exercising and very time efficient. If you really put your mind to it, you can always find 20minutes to get out and get some fresh air. Being self-reliant and doing some running alone makes it much easier to get out when it’s convenient for you. Hopefully this article gives you plenty of information about the abundance of benefits of running alone.

anyone following a training plan usually ends up compromising the quality or intensity of their run as a result of adapting their pace to meet the needs of another.

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