At 5:30 in the morning in mid-March, a group of five women gathers at the Market Square Starbucks. It is cold and, thanks to the recent Daylight Saving Time change, very dark, but the women agree on two things: First, it’s a great day for a seven-mile run, and second, none of them would be there if they weren’t together.
It’s a common refrain from the members of New Albany running, walking and biking groups. Having someone to meet for daily exercise provides accountability, competition and companionship.
“When it’s more social, you’re more likely to stay committed,” says Janet Hurt, one of the women out running on that cold March morning.
Hurt started running in 2006 in a much less social setting – on the treadmill in her basement. Eventually, she found a few other friends who were interested in working out with her – first biking, and then running when the weather was too bad for biking. They texted back and forth to schedule workouts.
It was Hurt who made it official, creating a Yahoo! Group, which gives the 12 to 15 members an easy way to email each other and exchange messages online. The group, New Albany Fit and Fun, gets together several times a week, and not just to exercise. They’ll meet for wine tastings, Super Bowl parties or other events, says member Jill Beckett-Hill. But the women view their runs as a chance to spend time with friends, too.
“We start our social time at 5:30 or 6 in the morning,” Beckett-Hill says.
“We all get to connect before we move on to careers and the kids and homework and activities.”
Friendships are naturally born out of spending hours together pounding the pavement, says Michael Kunstmann, a vascular surgeon and New Albany resident who has been running and training with others since the mid-2000s.
“It’s amazing what you can talk about on a 20-mile run. You really learn a lot about people when you’re doing these things,” Kunstmann says.
Though he currently is training for triathlons with a smaller group of five to seven others, Kunstmann was originally part of a running group begun almost a decade ago by New Albany resident Scott Friedman.
Friedman may have had more impact on the early-morning workout scene in New Albany than any other individual. What started as two buddies, Friedman and Brandon Dupler, first meeting for casual runs and then training for a marathon together quickly grew as Friedman spotted other runners and asked for their contact information.
“I hate to run alone,” Friedman says.
Now he never has to. Friedman’s Yahoo! Group, Over 30 Marathon, has more than 170 members.
“People tell each other when and where they’re running and how far,” he says.
When Friedman decided to train for Pelotonia, he started a similar cycling group. New Albany Biking now has more than 220 members, though not all of them are New Albany residents.
That uplifting feeling Friedman gets after exercising with others could be attributed to endorphins, long suspected to play a major role in the euphoric “runner’s high” experienced after strenuous workouts. A 2009 study of Oxford University crew team members found that rowers experienced much higher pain tolerance – indicating higher endorphin levels – when they trained together compared to when they trained alone.
Though scientists don’t understand all the effects endorphins have on our bodies, various studies have associated the neurotransmitters with a host of beneficial effects, including positive mood, a boosted immune system, increased insulin sensitivity and lowered blood pressure. So it’s possible that training together could amplify these positive physical effects as well.
Motivation and competition are two other benefits of working out in a group, says Dr. Timothy Miller, an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine at The Ohio State University and a team physician for the OSU Track and Field team.
“It’s easier to work out with a partner or a group of people (because) there’s always someone there to motivate you, especially on days when the weather is not so great,” Miller says. “You’re doing it for them and for the group.”
Miller finds that having the Track and Field team members train together offers an element of competition that helps them prepare for competition against other schools.
“People who train together or train in groups have a much better shot at higher performance levels than people who don’t,” he says.
Cross country athletes, in particular, find that running together is helpful.
“When you’re training between 80 and 100 miles a week, it can be hard to stay motivated,” Miller says. “You can share methods of rest and recovery. It’s good to have someone there beside you rather than just taking on that workload by yourself.”
Both Beckett-Hill and Kunstmann credit group training for their current abilities. Beckett-Hill has run half-marathons – something she never imagined she would do when she started running.
“I’ve never enjoyed running,” she says. “When the group first started, I would only go when they would post about two or three miles (runs).”
One day Beckett-Hill went out for what she thought was a shorter run. She was wrong.
“My friend Valerie (Roger) hijacked it… I had never run more than three or four miles with the girls and that run was eight miles. Once I got to that marker, I knew I could (run a half marathon).”
A group of about 10 flew out to Napa Valley in California for a half-marathon last year – Beckett-Hill’s first.
“I never would have reached that goal had it not been for the encouragement of our friends,” she says.
Kunstmann and his friends that train for triathlons – including Scott Berliner, Nick Roger and Janet Hurt’s husband, Scott – also go to out-of-town and out-of-state races together.
“Honestly, it’s pretty rare for there not to be at least a few that go to do an event together,” Kunstmann says. “There is something about that accountability and being pushed by your friends. It’s almost like an, ‘Oh, you’re going to do that? I think I can do it, too,’ sort of thing.”
Lisa Aurand is editor of Healthy New Albany Magazine. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.