I mean, really, who gets to have this much fun as an adult?

Sure, everybody likes a solo run. Hit play, tune out the surroundings, wave to fellow runners…if you feel like it. Or blow past them quickly enough that you don’t even have to acknowledge anyone else is out there with you at all. Just me and my mountain or dirt road or four-lane highway. Solo run, I got love for ya. But, there’s a need for that running camaraderie, that pack mentality. To be able to hit a rock wrong and warn the person behind you instead of feeling like an idiot when you look around to check that no one saw.

Group run. Just saying, it invokes the anticipation and thrill of stretching your legs, feeling out your leader, playing your roll within the tribe. Stretching it out in the beginning, talking about the latest conquests, hitting those first (often uncomfortable) steps as a unit, warming it up, pulling out the stops, helping each other along the way, racing to the end, and finally a finish of delirious contentment. Runners know how to tap into that childlike bewilderment and that untethered push, where we don’t feel pain or limitation or obligation.

Group run. Your chance to feel whole.

When I think, “Let me sing to you the song of my people,” I hear grunts, run steps, slipping gravel, rustling leaves. I schedule these runs for myself as much as anyone else. Some runs are on challenging singletrack trails, some on winding dirt-packed forest floor, a few along rail-to-trail and once a month, through town. I cherish the opportunity to have access to invite “my people.”

Turnout is typically between eight and 16, and the consensus is always that “this was the best time ever.” It doesn’t matter if we have a fall along the way or gear failure or sore muscles or a run-in with a wild beast. Always, the sense of tribe is the end result. Your filter is removed when you push yourself physically, and what you’re left with is honesty. “This is as fast as I go.” “This is as far as I go.” “I’m going to throw up.” The people I run with probably have better insight as to who I am and what I can take at the core than members of my own family.

A group run is a thing of stress and worry for me a few days or hours beforehand. Not only do I feel jacked up by the whole process, I simultaneously feel tired and anxious and kind of like I’d rather do something else. Weird stuff. Within the first few seconds of hopping into the car, I decompress and feel that everything is right with the world. I leave the stresses of home behind and realize THOSE were the weights that made me think the run was a problem. I sometimes have to crack a window just to keep sweat at bay. I crank up the stereo and think over whatever gear I might need to pull out of my ever-ready run bag, a fixture in the trunk, when I arrive. As I drive closer, the music is turned down, and I find supreme focus.

My dedication to these runs never ACTUALLY waivers, but it’s very much just a piece of a clustered life. When I schedule, prepare and even struggle getting my shoulders through the teeny-tiny openings of a sports bra (you know what I’m talking about), these are all just more “means to my ends.” The kids’ voices never stop, the need to have everything prepared for myself AND for abandoning the household, those are all weights that I get the opportunity to run out from under for that hour or two.

Group run. Where you shed the preconceived notion of individual and find your place amongst a mass. I think a lot of people race for this very reason. That united feeling of fatigue and exhilaration is unlike anything you can experience otherwise. So, group run. Go find your people. On a whim, albeit a strong one, I found my people at a trailhead in a strange place just before dark. I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to keep up. It has changed my adult life. I never had this kind of fun at a bar or home watching TV or even vacationing. Group runs give me “self recharge” and primal recognition to my part in the whole.

If you don’t run, start. If you do run, group run. At least once a month.

Author: Meghan McCarrick lives in Washington, Mo., eats copious amounts of kale and runs 30 to 50 miles a week, usually with her dog, Magpie. She is a member of Terrain Trail Runners.