One of the easiest ways to get faster at running is training with people who are faster than you.
If you want to get quicker, you need to have someone ahead of you to pull you along. Think about the pacers you see at large half marathons and full marathons. Why do you think race directors enlist pacers for even their elite athletes? Because pacers are typically used to help athletes set new world records and/or personal records. If you are not in the league of setting a world record a pacer still can help a you maintain your speed throughout your race to reach a personal best.
So where can you get the chance to train with people of all pace ranges? Find a local team to train with! Many communities have free clubs, paid group training programs, and gyms that host runs.
Still nervous about taking the step to run with people who may be ahead of you? Lets go over the benefits of training within a group with various paces:
1. When you run within a group you are likely to find training partners for your daily runs and your speed sessions.
Running with someone who can keep your pace without pushing you too much, but still provides you that endorphin boost of running alongside a friend is a great partner to hold onto and very beneficial when it comes to base runs and long runs. Matching a daily base pace with someone adds to the enjoyment of running by adding in a great conversation. Even if the person is a slightly faster than you, it is nice to have them to run with a few times to keep you moving a little bit out of your slog.
When it comes to finding your speed training "partner", it takes a group. You should not be looking for someone who is going to keep your comfortable. A key component in helping someone become a better runner is simply having them be around runners who are faster than them. There is a enormous upside in being able to train with faster people. They can help pull you along in a consistent way. Following the path of faster runners, despite varying effort levels, you can always (1) follow or (2) have the advantage of being dragged along.
2. If you see others achieve their goals, you believe you can achieve your goals too.
Often the belief in one’s own abilities to achieve a goal is strengthened when you see others complete a goal. Seeing others reach their goals helps you believe that you can achieve your goals as well. Pacers and training partners alike are reminders that, "You can do this too. YOU GOT THIS". Training partners have a dual psychological purpose. Having a partner with you can actually reduce the stressors you have going on mentally. It will allow you to have clear focus to maintain pace without distraction. More pointedly said, "You stay more in the moment instead of trapped in your own head".
3. Deep Connections
Another aspect of group training is creating a connection between your training partners/group, the collective energy and team dynamic helps to uplift everyone. When you are seeing a training partner who is working just as hard as you, a few meters ahead of you putting the work in, it makes you do the same. This causes a chain reaction throughout the entire group.
"An Oxford University in 2009 studied of a rowing crew showed that pain tolerance doubled after a group session compared to a solo session (cited: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/abs/10.1098/rsbl.2009.0670). The research is paraphrased below:
Researchers indirectly measure the levels of endorphins (‘feel good’ hormones) released in the oarsmen when they completed tough training sessions together in a group, compared to doing the exact same sessions in isolation. An immediate measurement of pain tolerance after sessions found ample evidence that athletes' pain threshold was basically doubled after a group session when compared with a solo one.
This finding will be unsurprising for anyone who has done any amount of competitive group workouts; training with others almost always makes it easier to push yourself really hard. But it's interesting to see this ‘common sense’ backed up by more scientific evidence. The researchers who conducted the study speculated that their findings had something to do with the fact that humans are inherently social animals and that group bonding, especially during physically taxing activities, triggers a greater release of endorphins than doing tasks alone, which in turn allows for greater actual output with a reduced perception of effort."
I’ve certainly found this to be true on many occasions when I’ve ended up pushing out far better times in group sessions than I would've done alone (with less of a sense of effort). It's definitely an advantage worth harnessing at times when you really want to max out your efforts, push through some perceived barriers, or combat low levels of motivation.
In summary, do not shy away from groups with people whom are faster than you. Harness their efforts for your own progression in running and get faster by working alongside of them.