Over the course of my short (i.e. 4 year) running life I've run with a variety of different groups and I've also run solo. There are pros and cons to both group and solo runs, but the one thing I love about group runs is that the miles go by faster and I finish feeling stronger...
Bigger running groups have different pace options and so those groups definitely have the ability to make runners of all levels feel welcome. That can sometimes be harder with smaller groups. Which means that if you run with a small group it's important to be intentional about not isolating anyone or making anyone feel like they:
1. Don't belong because they run at a different pace
2. Don't belong because they are training for a different race
3. Don't belong because they don't run with the group all the time
4. Don't belong because they want to do different mileage
I could go on, but the point is we should not make people who want to run feel like they don't belong, or shouldn't run with our running group because their plans/goals/abilities differ from our own. As members of a broader running community we should encourage and embrace everyone who wants to run and try to facilitate each of us reaching our running goals (as best as we possibly can).
I'm dealing with some of these challenges in the group that I run with right now. And I'm pretty transparent about my life and my feelings so I recently felt like I had to comment/post a reminder that we (as a group) need to be accommodating to all the group members. To say the least, it wasn't taken well by everyone...
I'm probably overly sensitive to the need to make everyone feel welcome because there have been times when I've felt like I wasn't good enough, or fast enough, or had enough endurance to keep up/fit in. And I will acknowledge the fact that I completely control whether or not I will allow a passing comment or an exchanged glance affect how I feel or whether or not I run. But, at the same time, I deal with enough insecurities (actually I have a lot of insecurities) and running is a "safe place" for me. So when I'm out on a group run I don't want to feel like those insecurities are surfacing. And when some of my insecurities are related to running, that's definitely the last thing I want to feel.
Runners support each other
Unlike bigger groups, small running groups have to be even more careful to avoid the pitfalls of isolating others because... karma. I'm kidding, because it's just not the right thing to do. So if everyone has different mileage goals, then plan runs that have loops or an "out & back" option. If everyone has a different pace, an out & back option is especially accommodating. Another option is to schedule different start times for different mileage/pace goals. Regardless of the option the group chooses, it's important to ensure that the plan takes everyone into consideration (or at the very least, if you can't accommodate all, then accommodate most of the group).
This morning, I did a 6 mile loop, as part of a "let's try to accommodate most of our training" group run...
Mimi (in the picture with me) was doing her final really long run in preparation for Dopey, and graciously broke her run into 6-6-6-4 mile loops so that I could do 6 (first loop), another runner could do 12 (middle loops), and another runner could do 10 (last two loops). Of course, it's mutually beneficial because Mimi gets a change of company and pace with each of us that did different loops with her, and the rest of us get our desired mileage completed. This is how running groups should work. Ideally, we should find a way to work with each other in supporting each other's goals. It won't always fall into place nicely. Sometimes a runner may need to break off/turn back early, or continue to do more mileage after the group run is over. But the spirit of encouragement should be at the forefront... and when it is running groups shine.
Do you run with a running group?
If yes, how does your group accommodate runners of different levels?
If no, why do you prefer to run solo?