A year ago I ran in my first competitive race since college intramurals-the Georgetown University Homecoming Alumni 5k. I had been serious about running for six months at that point, and I was happy with my time and place-20:18, good enough for 18th out of 103.
After the race I talked with Ben Cooke of the Georgetown Running Company, who was timing the race. He mentioned that GRC had a running group that met on Wednesdays. A month or so later, I went down to run with them and spent the next couple of months getting hammered on the Haines Point loop and on the towpath.
But getting hammered proved to be very beneficial to my running. Gradually, I was able to stay with the group for longer periods of time and even run up front on occasion.
In addition, having guys around like Matt, Justin, Jason, Wilson, Sam, Jake, and others who encouraged you during and after runs, and at races gave me a morale boost.
Eventually, I decided to come out on Saturdays when I could, even though the Saturday people often ran even faster than the Wednesday people.
All of this payed off at the 2008 Georgetown Alumni 5k, when I ran 18:42 to place 16th out of 171. A 96 second improvement in one year. The race was also an official 5k PR by 71 seconds and an unofficial PR by 33 seconds. (5k split of an 8k.)
So for those who are on the fence, wondering if they should do group runs, I strongly encourage it.