Running with a Friend, Group is Fun, Boosts Performance - by Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press
Some mornings, my muscles are so stiff, it’s hard to contemplate standing, let alone going out for a run.
If it’s raining or too hot or too cold or too snowy or too or too … whatever, the excuses are compounded and I’m inclined to snuggle deeper beneath the covers.
That’s when having a running buddy waiting for my lazy backside to hobble out of bed becomes vital to stay on a training plan. Without my friend Teresa to commiserate, to tag team child care and strategize, I wouldn’t get far.
Though we support one another in plenty of ways, we rarely get to run together. A whole lot of research and loads of other runners agree that we’re missing out.
By running with at least one other person, “you can go twice the distance, you can run at a faster pace than you run on your own, and you feel energized because of it, and because of the people you run with,” said Abdul Alzindani, a 1996 Fordson High School graduate and track and cross country star.
Alzindani created a free app called Runopia to connect runners, and his vision is for it to become like a Meetup.com for runners, a clearinghouse of information delivered to your smartphone that will transform the sport from solitary to social.
“If you’re running by yourself, it’s tough to stay motivated. It’s a battle,” he said. “When I see people running on their own, I think man, you’re missing out on so much.”
Alzindani should know. In his sophomore year at Fordson, he won the U.S. Track and Field National Junior Olympic Championships and went on to win three more national titles in high school.
Among them was the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championship, which Alzindani won after training with his high school rival, Joe Leo at Detroit Catholic Central High School. Leo finished fifth nationally.
At age 38, and now director of operational excellence for the manufacturing division of for Merck Pharmaceutical Co., based in New Jersey, Alzindani continues to run.
So does Doug Kurtis, 63, of Livonia.
He said he's been running since 1968, and is the former race director of the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon, winning the event six years in a row — from 1987 to 1992. He how heads up the annual Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot as well as the Corktown Race and runs every Tuesday evening with the Downtown Detroit Runners and Walkers group, which has about 100 members.
"It’s just easier to run when you’re with somebody and the time goes by quicker," Kurtis said. "All of a sudden, you’re done and you say, 'Wow, that was fast.' Six miles on your own can sometimes feel like a long time, but when you’re running with somebody it just goes by more quickly."
In any given week, about 40 or 50 people of all ages and paces show up Tuesday nights at varying places in Detroit to run, walk and socialize, Kurtis said.
"The nice thing about the Downtown Runners is that you have the opportunity to see a lot of the sights of Detroit that you might not normally see on your own," he said. "We meet at different places on the riverfront, and at a different pub, too, every Tuesday night. So you see not only new places, but you get to eat at new places, too."
Making new friends through running is another perk, Alzindani said.
“If you get the right people, the right coach, the right teammates, it’s such a great sport that can make such a big difference, and it can transform people’s lives,” he said. “I’ve seen it myself.”
Alzindani, who was born in Yemen and moved to the United States at age 11, said he was bullied and taunted when he first came here.
“Two months later, my dad said, ‘You know what? Let’s move to Michigan.’ He said, ‘I have a friend who lives there.’ … Long story short, I ended up staying in Michigan and lived with family and friends or the rest of junior high, and high school, until I went to college.
"That’s why I have such an appreciation for running. That was my outlet, to go out, make good friends and connections. It allowed me to improve my English skills. School became much easier for me, and then I just had a sense of belonging.”
After moving to New Jersey, Alzindani came up with the idea for Runopia after he visited a running shop and saw a sign on the door for group runs. If he hadn't been in the store that day, he wouldn't have been able to find the group.
"I thought: 'Why is that information hidden? Why isn't it simple and available for people to see?' " Alzindani said.
"So it became my mission last year to take all that information and develop a simple platform so people can post their organized runs. Whether it’s running clubs, running stores, or just individuals themselves, and just make it available on a simple platform."
He noted that there are Facebook groups for runners and Meetup.com running groups, but, Alzindani said,
"they’re all disconnected. And you have to know the names of the actual groups to see where they’re meeting."
Already, his app lists the Downtown Detroit Runners and Walkers events, those organized by the Downriver Runners, RunDetroit, Stone Steppers, and Hansons Running stores.
And anyone who uses the app can schedule and organize group runs among friends, or schedule private or public events. The app also allows for remote coaching and syncs up with a runner's favorite apps, whether it's RunKeeper, MapMyRun or a host of others.
“Technology is enabling people to connect much beyond traditional running clubs,” Alzindani said. “If you look at the market in the U.S., 54 million people went out for at least one run last year; 30 million went out for more than 50 days of running.
“Then, when you look at how many people are part of an organized, typical running club, it’s only like 300,000 or so. So there’s a mismatch there. What we’re thinking is connect the people — and eventually what we can do is use the people we have to start promoting races, products, running stores and their organized runs so they are visible to people.”
Perhaps it's time to give it a try.