Training: Alone and disciplined? Or in a group and pushing?

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The pros and cons of training with a group or training partner

By Alice Hohl

There are those triathletes who are up before the sun, leaving for their ride or run from their front door, putting in solitary mile after solitary mile with only their mental toughness to keep them going.

And there are triathletes who swim with a team, ride in a peloton and run in a pack, pushing each other to the limit and enjoying shooting the breeze over a protein shake afterward.  There are certainly pros and cons to each method.

Timothy Miller of Sedona, Ariz. ( screen name: MonkeyClaw), can see both sides of the equation. "I mostly train alone due to time constraints, but I prefer training with others," Miller says. "I find training with the right people forces me to push myself harder and varies my workouts."

"At the same time, training alone is a requirement to teach yourself discipline and how to suffer," Miller says. "Suffering with another person isn't really suffering."

Timing is everything

Many triathletes feel they have to train for triathlons alone due to time constraints. In fact, almost 50 percent of the nearly 600 members polled on the topic replied that they train alone out of necessity.  See poll

"With a busy and often unpredictable schedule, I have to fit in training as and when I can," says Mike Gershowitz of Chicago, Ill. (BT screen name: Ershk) "Given the need to stay flexible with work and family, having commitments to train at particular time would add a layer of stress that I don't need. While I would enjoy being able to train more with others, for now it's a luxury when the timing works out."

Others have a hard time locating like-minded (or like-speed) training partners.  While this is true in some cases, often several triathletes from the same area will complain they have to train alone because no one else works out at 4:30 a.m. Methinks they do; perhaps they just can't see each other in the dark!

Leave me alone

Other triathletes enjoy the solitude, particularly introverts or athletes who have to be around people (or their kids) all day and could use some time alone with their thoughts. About 23 percent of poll respondents said they prefer to train alone. Another 10 percent said they train with others and on their own, but they prefer to train alone.

"I have always trained alone," says Kim Reamer of West Wendover, Nev., (BT screen name: ingleshteechur). "Most of my miles, whether on bike, on foot or in water, are ALL me."

"I have come to love my training time," Reamer says. "It is my ‘me' time; my quiet time; my time to gather my thoughts for the day. I love it."

Marquis K. Toson of Savannah, Ga., (BT screen name mktoson) shares the sentiment.  "I train alone because I prefer it," Toson says. "I really enjoy the solitude. I have plenty of friends and have a huge social network. I use training as a way to get a break from friends."

Stick to the plan

Those who train in a group do risk subverting the goals of their training plan to conform to the group workout, or might go too slow or too fast in order to stay with the group.

Mark Usher of Sarasota, Fla. (RedCorvette on BT), says he trains alone 99 percent of the time.

"I much prefer to do my own workout rather than someone else's," Usher says. "I normally plan my workouts ahead of time and have my own specific goals for time, distance, HR, intervals, etc."

Through thick and thin

But for those who are afraid they are too slow to train with others, or that the hassle isn't worth it, they should know the rewards could be plentiful. And for those who can't stand to do a long ride alone, they should come to terms with the utter solitude they will surely encounter when racing-either during a long bike leg where the only interaction with others is in the draft zone, or during a longer or less populated race, battling one's demons alone.

"On weekdays I train alone, but only out of necessity," says Andrew Thompson of Spring, Texas (BT screen name: AndrewMT). "My schedule is too busy to meet up with any groups. On the weekends, I do as much as I can with groups."

"This is a social sport. I love racing and being fast, but the interaction with others is what makes this enjoyable for me," Thompson says. "If I had to do all my training alone, I would have quit the sport a long time ago."

In my case, I trained alone for years, certain I was too slow to hang with any group of runners or cyclists and convinced my schedule as a working mom wouldn't allow for group training. The year I decided to go for an Ironman, I was invited by an acquaintance to train with a small group of triathletes from the downtown athletic club. I couldn't afford a membership, but I met them for their outdoor workouts.

My apprehension quickly turned to excitement as I reveled in shooting the breeze before and after workouts, and I saw my speed increase from the effect of having someone to chase. Although I was never first, to my surprise I was seldom last.

The drive to the jumping off point didn't seem like much of a hassle at all, since it put me close to my office at the end of the workout. And the lasting friendships and kicks in the rear when I needed them were priceless.

Robin Pritchard of Santa Maria, Calif. (BT screen name: froglegs), had a similar experience.
"I do enjoy the logistical simplicity of training alone, and I get to do exactly what I want to do without worrying about anyone else," Pritchard says. "For my first three-plus years in this sport, I did pretty much all of my training alone and was fine with it."

"However, now I belong to a tri club, and usually about once or twice a week I work out with them. It is a lot of fun, and it has added a new dimension to the sport for me that I didn't even realize was missing," she says.

Mental toughness

Although I enjoyed training with my new-found group, I still put in my share of lonely workouts, which I referred to as "mental toughness sessions." I did plenty of miles on my trainer in the garage when group rides were canceled due to weather. I completed a 120-mile training ride alone because I couldn't convince anyone to join me. But I also realized that--while training alone does relieve stress--nothing is more fun than a good belly laugh during a run. (Except maybe dropping a minute per mile on my run pace, simply by running with "the boys.")

Find a buddy

To locate training partners near you, try browsing and posting in the forum for your state or country, found in the Forum listings .

Many thanks to the members who agreed to be interviewed for this article.


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date: September 6, 2011


Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.


Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.

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