Running can be a lonely sport when it feels like it's just you and the pavement. But, as I look back on my years of running, the memories were rarely mine alone.
My journey to greater fitness began when I was dragged by friends to conquer Mount Kinabalu in 2007.
I moved on to doing my first 10km at the New Balance Real Run in 2011 and this built up till I eventually ran my first 42.195km at the 2015 Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore.
Throughout my journey, I was fortunate to have enjoyed the company of friends/community who brought out different elements and perspectives of running, which made it much more enjoyable and meaningful.
Here are my four reasons to run in a community:
ESTABLISH ACCOUNTABILITY FOR GROWTH
A running community helps you to be accountable and focused. When you feel you are too busy with work or school, it provides a platform to check in with one another and maintain discipline.
While some might argue that such support is unnecessary, the same can't be said of runners who are either new to the sport, or who see running as a long-term undertaking to improve and maintain fitness.
You will also have a safe space in which to grow without being impeded by fears of inadequacy, where you can receive feedback and well-intentioned advice to improve your running.
CREATE MEMORIES WITH ONE ANOTHER
A runners' community allows everyone to journey together through training, injury and races.
Lessons learnt and shared help members avoid repeating the growing pains. Your friends will also be the ones who constantly help you discover and rediscover your aptitude for running, by being your pillar of support and motivation.
As you build on each other's experiences through the highs and lows, it creates a tapestry of memories that enrich and elevate the running experience.
LEARN TO LOOK OUT FOR OTHERS
Within the communities I have been a part of, everyone looks out for one another, and often will go the extra mile to ensure that everyone is taken care of.
Sometimes, it could be as simple as buying additional hydration bottles for other runners, or picking each other up during the wee hours to go for a training run or race.
These seemingly small acts of kindness and expression of care for one another form the scaffold upon which the community develops and flourishes.
SERVE OTHERS BEYOND RUNNING
Being in a group helps to redirect and drive the group's purpose outwards, towards the community and people around us.
Recently, I got to know a group who come together to run every Saturday. Eventually, they started asking themselves what more they could do with their time and love of being active and outdoors.
This sparked an interest in volunteering (to assist children with cancer) after their training sessions.
They were able to look beyond their group's needs and serve the needs of another community, through simple acts of planning games that helped these ill children be more active. One of them mentioned that Saturdays were "deeply satisfying" as a result.
There are more than 430 running groups on record in Singapore today.
They might share different commonalities, such as a sports brand sponsor, proximity to work/home, similar backgrounds and ethnic/national identities, or even have their unity underpinned by common causes or values.
While every group is likely to identify with its own sense of purpose and motivation, they are all bound by their love of running.
Running a race is a parallel with journeying towards our goals in life.
The next time you gear up for a run, remember that you are running as one with your community - both in life as well as your race.
- Jed Senthil is a former civil servant who serves professionally in the community work and social enterprise sectors. The avid runner and youth advocate is also the co-founder of the RunONE running community.