Lone Ranger Or Running With the Pack?

By CarrieBarrett – October 3, 2013

I signed up for an Austin Fit marathon training group way back in 2001.  I needed some guidance and accountability as I attempted my first official “go” at a full marathon.  I was ridiculously intimidated and ended up leaving early on the very first day because I was too afraid to run the two-mile time trial in front of everyone.  Convinced I was going to be DFL (Dead Freaking Last), I feigned illness and went home dejected.  After much self-flagellation, I returned the next week, and the next week, and the 25 weeks that followed.  On Sunday, February 17, 2002, my life forever changed when I crossed the finish line of the Motorola Marathon.

Through that journey, I met athletes who are still great friends to this day.  I needed that group, and I credit that year as the “flip switch” that made me the person that I am today.  I needed the plan, and I needed the nudge.  Most importantly, I needed a group to meet on Saturdays as my long run miles increased from 10 to 16 to 20 miles and beyond.  Since then, I’ve been a member of several training groups in Austin; I’ve had PRs (personal records) as one of Gilbert’s Gazelles, and I’ve become an Ironman thanks to the team at T3.  In 2010, I even started my own team, FOMO Training.  What started as a small venture to coach a few people has turned into a full-fledged adventure group with members tackling all kinds of bucket list items, including 100 milers, Ironman-distance triathlons, and a recent hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Training with a group has countless tangible and intangible advantages, most of them revolving around social camaraderie, accountability, and motivation.  It’s deplorable to think about 5 a.m. swim sessions until you realize that 20 other people will also be there.  Knowing that others will be there doesn’t necessarily make it fun, but at least it makes it bearable.  Plus, when you’re with a team, you tend to push your limits more.  You will work harder, especially when that person in front of you is pushing a 105 cadence and you’re hanging out at 75.  Being part of a group provides a huge level of support on race day, too.  There’s always a smile, wave, word of encouragement, and high-five along the course.  Plus, who can resist the post-race team tent with coolers and war stories to swap?

img1So why, then, have I been training solo for a greater part of four years?  Why have I given up weekly group track workouts and masters swims for a monastic solo approach?  In 2010, I found myself chronically injured, burned out, and running myself ragged trying to do too much.  There was no real specificity to what I was doing.  I wanted to be faster at everything, so I was pushing myself too hard at every workout.  Of course, there were no real recovery sessions because those aren’t often built into group plans.  I never scheduled an “off season.”  It was either “tri season” or “marathon season.”  Plus, as a competitive athlete and member of several teams, I didn’t want to show weakness.  I didn’t want to be viewed as vulnerable.  Most importantly, I didn’t want to feel like a slacker.  Consequently, I spent the greater part of two years in a physical therapist’s office recovering from two different surgeries on my hip and leg.  Was it the group’s fault?  Absolutely not.  I have no one to blame but myself.  I wasn’t taking personal responsibility or heeding the warning signs.  I didn’t pull my coaches aside and say, “I’m toast,” because I didn’t want to hear the truth.  I didn’t want to hear, “Take a break.” Ironically, the break came anyway, albeit not in the form I wanted.

That’s why, when I made my return to training and competition, I wanted to do it the right way.  I wanted to start with a base and foundation of fitness and strength.  I wanted to remain as healthy as possible, even if it meant sacrificing speed.  I want to enjoy this lifestyle for as long as possible.  And, in the wise words of my husband, I want to “train to alleviate stress in life, not to create more of it.”  Because of this, I’ve recently taken the lone ranger approach to my own training.  In spite of coaching 20+ athletes of my own at any given time, I’ve actually hired separate coaches for myself.  I work one-on-one with them to talk about pace, exertion, heart rate, power, and all of the other metrics that are unique to my needs.  I have my own periodized schedules that build in breaks and recovery.  I have specific workouts that require a tremendous amount of self-discipline and motivation.  Do I work as hard as I did when I was training with groups?  Absolutely.  Most days, it’s harder because there’s no one there to push me or distract me.  Training solo is also more time efficient, and it provides much needed “me” time.  Often, I crave those long training runs or solo swims.  Does this mean I never train with people?  Heck no!  My most memorable days involve training with others:  I love hopping into group rides or weekend shop rides, and I find joy in meeting friends for a swim at the Quarry.  I’m just much better at balancing those days with achieving my own training and race goals.  That, in turn, has made me a more balanced athlete.  And, since recovering from those surgeries, I’ve set a personal best at the half-Ironman distance; I’ve re-qualified for the Boston Marathon; and I’ve trained for and raced two Ironman triathlons…mostly by training solo.

Austin has a plethora of skilled groups, teams, clubs, gyms, and facilities, especially if you’re in it for fun and the social aspect.  With all of the free community workouts, shop rides, access to free pools, and more, you’ll never be alone.  Just make sure you balance your time and effort levels.  Also, make sure you pick a team or group with well-rounded coaches who have the time to answer any questions or concerns you may have.  Don’t be afraid to approach your coach if you are struggling.  If you feel neglected or left behind, find another group.

img2If you train primarily to maximize performance, then I would suggest you consider working with a coach and going solo with a lot of your training—or at least minimize the distractions while you focus on your “A” race or event.  Most professional triathletes do the bulk of their training alone and supplement with occasional group sessions.  A skilled coach will work with you on your specific goals, personal life, schedule, race execution, nutrition, and more.  Sprinkle in group workouts, but do so with a purpose. Use them for recovery, race practice, or even a mental health day.  Join a group ride so that you’re not on the roads alone, but ride at your pace and keep breaks to a minimum.  Train with those whose performance goals are similar to yours.

There are many pros and cons to both group and solo training.  The direction you choose is often determined by your goals, your schedule, and desire.  Regardless of whether you go it alone or with the pack, never neglect the important aspects of training:  massage, bodywork, solid nutrition, and plenty of rest.  See you on the roads. And keep Austin fit!


Related Articles