Racing: Solo or Shared?

Posted by Filed Under: Races & Racing

running wisdomA few months ago, while discussing my race strategy with my coach, he asked me if I intended to have a friend run the last six miles of the marathon with me. Without hesitating, I responded, “Yes, of course!” He went on to ask me if I was sure I didn’t want to reach the finish line alone.

I paused and thought about that for a moment, then answered “No, I don’t want to reach the finish line alone. I didn’t get to the start line alone, so why should the race be any different?” That’s when it occurred to me that this was yet another area of running where opinions differ from runner to runner.

There are three choices available for arriving at the finish line: 1) run it solo, 2) run with a friend/training group/pace group, or 3) some combination of those two. Of course, this does not preclude one from wearing a costume, juggling, or running backwards on the way to the finish line, but that’s really more about style than function.

Running Solo

This means running the race alone with very little talking to other runners. Running completely within yourself and being solely responsible for finding the inner strength and motivation to reach the finish line. At the finish line, you will thank your family and friends for supporting you, but you will know that you were the one who did all the work on race day.

Running Shared

Or you can run with a friend (old or new), with a pace group or with a training group from start to finish. You will be relying on each other to push when things get tough. At the finish line, you will thank your family and friends for supporting you and you will thank your running partner(s) for keeping the momentum headed in a forward direction. Your legs/lungs/body/mind did the actual work, but their encouragement helped you stay the course.


You might start the race alone and then pick up a friend to pace you for the last few miles. Or perhaps you start the race with a pace group but then pull away once you are warmed up and feeling strong. Either way, you will reach the finish line from your effort as well as the assistance of others, similar to the “running shared” experience.

Who’s To Say?

These are some grey areas, or overlap, possible. Maybe the solo runner gets a motivational boost every time he high-fives a little kid. Or perhaps the shared runner draws strength from being in the group, but doesn’t like to talk much. For the most part, they can be placed into one of the three categories.

Then the questions arise: Is one way more admirable? Is one way better than another? If you run solo, does that mean you are tougher? Or does it just mean you are anti-social? Will one way make you a stronger runner?

What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.

About Dianna

Dianna, also known as the Running Chick with the Orange Hat (Running Chick for short) moved from being a periodic gym rat to a runner in January of 2003 during a botched New Year's resolution. Her newly rediscovered fondness for running quickly blossomed into a full-blown obsession. Within a year and a half, she went from suffering through two miles on the treadmill to running a marathon. Cotton was discarded for wicking fabrics and gel was no longer something she put in her hair. Since then, she has continued to challenge herself, first with achieving her Boston Qualifying time, then running a PR at Boston and doing an occasional sprint distance triathlon. Future endeavors include a trail marathon and longer distance triathlons. Dianna has been blogging about her running adventures since April 2004, even getting an article 'published' online at Runner's World as well as capturing the attention of a local news channel. She can discuss all things related to running, swimming, and biking, at great length, without ever getting bored. In her free time, she enjoys pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, with her husband and multi-racial canine in Connecticut, U.S.A.

  1. Mark Iocchelli on November 2nd at 9:00 am

    I think there are different finishing goals for marathons that can influence a person’s decision.

    If the goal is more to finish than to see how fast you can run the marathon, it becomes easier to run with others.

    If the goal is to race the entire marathon pushing the envelope with regard to one’s potential for covering 26.2 miles at max speed over that distance, then it’s really difficult to be social because focus on self is paramount.

    I’ve done both and each are rewarding in their own way. 🙂

  2. Mark Iocchelli on November 2nd at 9:06 am

    But if the other person is there strictly as a non-social pace bunny, then that’s a whole different purpose for them being there. 😉

  3. Soozan on November 2nd at 3:02 pm

    Ususally, I like to train with a group and race solo . . . and then sometimes it just depends on the time of the month.

  4. Anne on November 2nd at 4:14 pm

    It’s never occurred to me to ask someone — especially if that someone isn’t registered and therefore is essentially a bandit — to help “run me in” during a marathon. I definitely think there’s more personal glory in running a race all by yourself, without a fresh pair of legs to help give you a boost at the end. But that doesn’t mean you have to struggle in isolation, either. I would not have gotten to the finish of my last marathon were it not for someone also struggling on the course alongside me. A key point is that person was sanctioned to be there and was as willing to help me as I was her.

    I realize I’m probably in the minority on this point, but I’ll always admire more the guy or gal who makes it on his or her own will and power.

  5. Anne on November 2nd at 6:46 pm

    But let me also be clear (now that I’ve reread everything) that it’s a ton of fun to work through a course with a group or a sole/soulmate. A very merit-worthy approach. Those folks are the ones coming through the finish chute all smiles and working up the crowds. My beef in an earlier comment is with ‘unofficial’ assistance (even those rabbits Mark referred are officially entered in the race) — but I now don’t think that’s what the Running Chick was referring to in her article.

  6. Michelle on November 3rd at 5:56 am

    I heart training partners! In a race, I like a combo. Start out together and run your own race when the time comes. If that happens to be all the way to the finish line- GREAT! I wouldn’t have had as much fun if I hadn’t run with a buddy in my last marathon.