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Run with a competitive club

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Movement sparks progress. For high performers, this forward momentum is powered by currents in science, technology, and subculture. To celebrate the launch of THE NEW STRONG™ apparel collection, Furthermore and ASICS have partnered to harness the power of these currents and show you how to channel them into actual results.

For decades, pros have trained in packs because they know it makes the heart, lungs, and legs grow stronger. Now, run groups around the country are catching on to the trend.

Diana Katsikaris, a Precision Run coach at Equinox Chestnut Hill in Boston, has noticed an uptick in speedy crews around the city. Michael Olzinski, a Precision Run coach at Equinox locations in San Francisco, points to the 2018 California International Marathon as proof of this shift from casual to competitive groups.

In that race, 100 women (compared to 11 in 2010) ran at or under the Olympic marathon qualifying standard, many of whom trained with local, non-elite clubs. Jessica Chichester, the nurse who placed fifth at last year’s Boston Marathon, credited New York City’s Dashing Whippets with her performance. This sense of empowerment embodies THE NEW STRONG™, a female-focused apparel collection from ASICS, which was created on the premise that strong women can progress by inspiring, pushing, and supporting one another.

If your weekly group outing is an easy loop around the neighborhood followed by bagels, that’s great. But you should also consider adding a second one to your schedule, specifically one that includes speed training. “It’s a great opportunity to grow both on and off the roads and the track,” Katsikaris says.

For Olzinski, group speed workouts are painful in a “hurt so good” kind of way. “My boy Mario Fraioli is my best friend, but I have to mentally prepare if I know he’s going to be there,” he says. Fraioli recently ran the California International Marathon in 2:27, and it takes everything Olzinski has to keep up with him on Saturday hill runs and Tuesday night track workouts.

That’s exactly the result you want. “Competitive crews encourage a ‘keep up with the pack’ mentality, allowing runners to push further and go faster than they would otherwise,” says Katsikaris, who has worked with local clubs such as Boston Road Runners.

Science backs her up. Athletes report lower rates of perceived exertion when they do intervals in groups compared to when they go solo, according to a 2016 study out of Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. Even more interesting, research shows rugby players train harder when they do so in sync. Fall into stride with a fast friend, and you may just pick up the pace without realizing it.

Here are three ways you can get the most out of joining a competitive crew.

Scale your workout.

You don’t have to log the same workout as the runner next to you who can hold a six-minute pace like it’s nothing. The routines are generally scalable. “During a track workout, the A group might do twelve 400-meter repeats, the B group will do eight, and the C group will do six,” Olzinski explains. Everyone finishes more or less at the same time, getting exactly the challenge they need. But here’s the thing: The C group never stays the C group for long. “I don’t even have one in my run crew anymore,” he says. “The Cs have infiltrated the Bs. People grow and improve together.”

Start with one.

Alex Figueroa, a Boston-based Precision Run coach, warns that these run groups can often push people past their limits to a fault. After all, no one wants to be the one who bails on a workout. That over-dedication leads to injuries, he says. Runners who are new to speedwork should start by showing up just once a week. When you feel a twinge or recurring ache, back off until it fades.

Lead your own.

If you don’t have access to a club of this sort, consider starting your own. Olzinski says the key to getting it off the ground is consistency. Pick a central meeting point and always be there at the appointed time. If you’re there every week, it will grow.

With these strategies in your back pocket, you’ll gain fitness and friends, too. “Runners use the competitive spirit to show their compassion for the sport, to develop a camaraderie amongst one another, and to create friendships and unbreakable bonds,” Katsikaris says. When that’s the case, speed is just a bonus.