Running – A Team Sport

In order to challenge myself, earlier this year I ran my first marathon in Chicago.  Running always appeared to me to be a very individual sport where you prepare yourself and just go out and run your chosen distance.  However, as I thought more how I was going to tackle the challenge it became apparent just how much teamwork would be involved.


Before looking at how the team was built and utilised for the marathon let me highlight what I see as the elements required to be considered a highly functioning team:


  • Clear objective: Everyone on the team is aligned to the final outcome
  • Team ethos: Each member of the team is pulling together for each other
  • Team selection/balance: Every member is put into a role which allows each function within the team to operate at the best possible level and doesn’t leave any particular component weaker or stronger than any other
  • Dependency: Each member has an important role to play. Without them performing their role to the highest level, success will be impaired
  • Communication: It’s crucial that teams have excellent communication lines to convey the vision, delegate tasks, feedback issues and status updates. Clarity in the information flow provides comfort to those involved that there are no surprises in progressing to the outcome as planned


So, with that in mind, this is how I see that a solitary sport is actually very dependent on having a team around you.


Friends and family: This is the most important part of the whole equation.  They provide an intangible element which, I think, more than anything else will get you round the course.  These are the people that perhaps you are running for (in my case, running for Cancer Research, I was thinking predominantly about my father).  They are also the people who motivate you.  The ones who make you get out and run when you really don’t want to.  Finally, they are the ones who I could really feel supporting and encouraging me on the way round – even though none of them were physically present for the race.


Our group of runners: There were 5 of us who entered the marathon together (for me it was part of a bet that went horribly wrong).  We all set about the process in the same way and, through Whatsapp, Twitter and Strava, we shared our experiences with one another.  This was a critical element for me, mainly from a mental perspective.  There was a support network there, so if runs were good, bad, easy or difficult there were people around you who knew what you were going through and were there to give you a few words to celebrate with you or cheer you up.  In addition to this, because they were also participants, we met at the start which was a wonderful thing to share.  In addition to this we all met for a dinner after the event to celebrate everyone’s achievement; be that just surviving the event to achieving a personal best


The training regime: Some other events I’ve taken on I’ve adopted a freestyle approach to the training – insofar as I created my own regime based on principles I had observed from a variety sources, such as the regimes that other people had used for their events.  For this challenge, there were a number of reasons why I was looking for a regime which suited me; as a non-runner, I didn’t have a good handle on the best approach, friends and family had been injured in their regimes, there was a finite amount of time I had to dedicate to training, etc…  Following recommendations, I went for the novice 1 regime provided by Hal Higdon [].  This particular regime had 3 midweek runs, a long run at the weekend and a cross training session.  This was something I felt I could commit to and also allowed for tinkering around the edges to allow it to fit into my life rather than looking to work my life around it.  I thought about whether this would fall within the team element but based on Hal’s active Twitter account [@higdonmarathon] and his responsiveness to posts meant that I felt compelled to include him as part of the team.  Even when it came to the run and some of the team were no longer involved in the execution it wasn’t me running in a vacuum


Supporters: The people at the side of the road cheering you on, handing out food and drink, asking for high 5’s and holding up the banners were a huge advantage.  Running for 4 hours without that kind of noise and encouragement would make for a very dull run.  Considering that the maximum run of the training programme I did was 20 miles, the final 6 was a leap into the unknown and was more about having the adrenaline pumping and these supporters certainly made a massive difference


Fellow runners: The run itself was, for me, the first time I ran with other people.  Until then all of my runs were carried out individually.  This added a completely new dimension for the run.  Firstly, there were people that you had to move around, the line you wanted to run wasn’t always available to run and whenever you wanted to make some sort of move – such as for a drink – you had to be conscious of those around you.  These were the physical aspects of running with others, in addition there were mental aspects too.  All of these people had been through a similar training regime, they had all been going out when they didn’t feel like it, all had nerves about the task they were about to undertake (possibly for different reasons but all were nervous nonetheless), we were all pulling together to help make the race a success whilst, obviously, there were personal goals, there was a larger picture which the organisers helped to foster.  Finally, there were the inspirational runners.  I saw people running with wheelchairs with profoundly disabled people, running with prosthetic limbs, running for particular charities and running with costumes.  All of these added to making the day as enjoyable as running 26.2 miles can be


Physical training: This can come in many forms.  For me it was the use of a physiotherapist/masseuse.  I found that the longer runs put a significant toll on my body and various parts of me seized up or were painful during the running.  I’m not sure that I could have done it without the excellent care of Donna Willsmore, and I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much.  Whilst it was exceedingly painful at the time and left me with enough bruises that I was concerned my wife would start asking questions, there is no doubt in my mind that it helped ease up the muscles which were fatigued and overused


In summary, teams are a crucial part of everyday life and operate everywhere, even when you feel your task is very much a solo one.  Whether teams are remote or you’re surrounded by your team it’s important to know that they are there and that they know you are there for them.  Without paying attention to teams and teamwork it is improbable that the outcome will be as successful as you want, instil any sort of team spirit, have the team running effectively nor is it likely that you’ll have as much fun getting to the result.


As for the actual running, on a blisteringly hot Chicago day I managed to clock 4:07:35 and my wife knocked off a staggering 13% off her PB to record 4:14:06.  Friends are already trying to rope me into running the London marathon next year.  We’ll see…