Mental and Emotional Benefits of Training in a Group
(It’s Not Just About Performance)
Many people join a large training group like Marathoner in Training (MIT) hoping to improve their performance. Some aim to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Others want to train for a longer distance or set a new personal record. And there are folks like me who simply want to complete their first half marathon safely.
While I completed that half marathon, training with MIT also improved my mental health and well-being. I didn’t see that coming. Here are a few of the many well-being boosters you might notice:
Support: Loneliness is an epidemic. Participating in a group helps stave that off. Whether it's cheering each other during a workout, breakfast after, or pace group members showing up in your front yard with motivational signs after your husband had open-heart surgery (Yes, they really did this) the bonds you make through shared experience in MIT affirm that you are not alone in the world.
Camaraderie: Feel like an outsider? Not for long. Same lingo. Same tactics. Same pace. Same schedule. Especially within pace groups, commonalities build a sense of belonging. Want to strike up four miles worth of conversation? Ask someone if they ever do fartlek workouts. For the newbies, fartlek (pronounced “fart-lick”) means "speed play." It is fun to pronounce because aren't we all still eighth graders at heart?
Security: Group training does offer physical safety, but it also reduces uncertainty and confusion. I do not have to worry about hydration. If I take a wrong turn, someone will notice. If I leave my keys in the box at the end of a workout, I'll be missed. And I don’t have to decide where, how far, or when to go. We follow plans prepared by trained coaches and work out with more experienced runners and walkers. This minimizes decision fatigue. My toughest choice is which sparkle skirt to wear.
Amazement: If you hang around long enough in a barber shop, you're gonna get a haircut. And when you hang around long enough with a group of runners and walkers who set audacious goals and achieve them, you’ll do the same. In the years since my first half, I’ve run a hundred more races including two ultramarathons. I am still a bit stunned. Prepare to amaze yourself.
Sharing: You will not be a newbie forever. Eventually, the language and principles of running and walking long distances which once confused you will become familiar. A day will come when you catch yourself telling a newcomer how you were fitted for shoes, suggesting they leave that extra layer in the car, or inviting them to breakfast. You’ll be the one making them feel they belong.
Nita Sweeney is the award-winning author of three books including Make Every Move a Meditation and Depression Hates a Moving Target. A certified mindfulness teacher and coach, Nita helps athletes, professionals, and creatives thrive.