Togetherness. Unification. Collective purpose. Mutual respect and support.
You don't need to be running in a huge group to get a massive positive influence. Running with just a couple of other people is immensely beneficial for the mind, body, and spirit. The group supports the individual, and every individual has a vested interest in the well-being of the group. Doing it alone really does make it immensely more difficult. While the added difficulty does have it's benefits, the joy of being part of a group is, in my opinion, more powerful than going solo.
Each member of the group is able to lend their strength to another, and also borrow strength when they need it to get through. When you feel like giving up, and your ego strength isn't powerful enough to say, "Keep going," there is an actual other human being there to say, "Keep going, you can do this. We will do this together." That is some powerful stuff.
Accountability is an obvious benefit from group running. You must show up. People are expecting you. Having that little bit of accountability can be the difference between getting your run done first thing in the morning, forcing yourself out the door after a busy day, or skipping it altogether. Accountability isn't just about showing up. It is also about the content of what you're actually doing. Running with others, you have a group pace for easy runs. This helps reign some people in who take easy days too hard. It might also maintain a rhythm for people who want to take frequent walk breaks. It might also allow for individuals to really give themselves space away from consumption (podcast, music, phone), and have human connections.
It allows you to be seen, in more ways than one. Your running group will notice when you're having an off day, if you're trapped in your mind, if something is weighing on you. Your running group will see if your gait is off and suggest maybe you take it easy, suggest you take care of yourself. When we do things alone, we often either underestimate the extent of which something is hurting us, or we overestimate the extent something is hurting us. When you run alone, you may ignore that pain in order to go out for your run, hiding your gimp from others and pushing through it. On the other end of the spectrum, it's also a lot easier to make a mountain out of molehill by taking advantage of feeling sore or tired and skipping your run when you're solo, when in reality it might be good for you. Running with others allows you to be mirrored, and strengthens your understanding of yourself and others. Other people hold you accountable to take care of yourself, as you take care of those around you.
Sometimes it is nice to run with others and just be quiet the whole time. Sometimes it is nice to talk through every mile and be surprised when the run is over. Sometimes it is nice to process something that is going on in your life with your runner friends who can just listen and allow a space for vulnerability. That is something that become necessary to maintain the strength of the group. Vulnerability.
Running alone, you can keep it all to yourself, and sometimes that is completely necessary. But running with others, you are often forced out of your comfort zone. People will see you at your best and at your worst. People will see you struggle and be able to support you. People will see you soar and be able to applaud you. Overcoming a need for invulnerability is helpful for all facets of life. It not only strengthens our bonds with our running friends, but strengthens our relationships will all people in our lives. As Brene Brown says, "Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage." The group gives us the opportunity to be courageous over and over and over again. Practicing courage will only make us become more powerful, brave, and willing.
Of course, in the times of COVID-19, run in a group with caution: maintain appropriate social distance and use a mask.