Running Buddies: The Importance of Training Partners
Getting lonely out there on the trails? Solo runs are great (and important), but solitary run after solitary run can get, well, boring—especially if you’re putting in a lot of miles, which in turn means spending a lot of time on the run. Finding a running buddy is a simple and perfect solution, and one that might be more advantageous than you’d first realize.
Allow me to illustrate my favorite advantage of having one (or a few running) partners. Consider this scenario: it’s 6 am, you’re cozy in bed, you could easily talk yourself out of doing your morning run today by rationalizing that you’ll do it after your day’s activities (as if you’ll have time), or telling yourself that you could use a rest day. Oh, and it’s pouring outside (this is Oregon, after all). It’s so tempting to find an excuse, right? Now reconsider this same scenario, but this time you’re meeting your running buddy at 6:30. It’s not nearly so easy to cop out now, is it? That’s my favorite thing about running partners—accountability. Neither one of you is tempted to make a lame excuse because you know the other will see right through it. You can’t bail on somebody last minute the same way you can talk yourself out of something last minute when it’s just you versus your busy schedule or a comfortable couch.
In addition to getting you to show up for a run, running with someone else regularly keeps you accountable for when you run without them. If you and your running partner are on a similar training schedule, both of you will have to do your homework (AKA, your solo runs throughout the week) to keep up with each other.
Having a training partner will undoubtedly make you a better runner. Training partners who have different strengths help develop each other as runners. During high school my training partner/teammate was a crazy, hill-loving, long distance runner, and I preferred speedy and flat running. It worked out perfectly; I’d get pulled along on those hilly long runs and she’d stay right on my tail when it came to speed work.
Likewise, having some training partners with similar strengths as you do will sharpen yours. In fact, thriving on the same kind of workout can inspire some friendly competition since you both know you can handle it. As long as you and your training partner are at least somewhat close in your level fitness, if you get out there are run together on a regular basis, you’re both bound to benefit in some way.
Where things get tricky is when it is time to race with your training partner(s). If they’re struggling mid-race and you’re feeling good, what do you do? You might feel obligated to stay with them to help them out, but then again, you also have an obligation to yourself to give every race your 100%. Most running partners end up experiencing this at some point. My best advice would be to try to work together as best you can (when you can), but don’t be afraid to do your own thing. Just because you train together doesn’t mean that you’re going to have the same good days/bad days—you and your training partner(s) might not even have the same general racing strategy. For example, perhaps one of you prefers to start out more conservatively than the other, or one of you is feeling especially good today and wants to take off. Instead of trying to compromise race-plans, stay true to what you know works for you, go with your gut, and if and when you end up near each other, work together by pulling or chasing the other along.
During my second year of college, because of various circumstances, we only had two of us competing on the women’s team. Ironically, what worked for Gyl and I, as far as training and racing go, was completely opposite of each other. During workouts and races we’d run together when we could—when it was right for each of us individually—and pull each other along. When we were spread apart whoever was behind would work on closing the gap according to her own strategy. The fact is, though, that working to close the gap is worth it, because it really is easiest mentally to run side by side with someone.
An important aspect of why Gyl and I worked so well together was that we had an understanding of what it meant to be a good teammate. We both did our best to help each other out, but we weren’t tied to each other and wouldn’t hold ourselves back if the other couldn’t keep up. If either partner is easing up during a race or important workout so that both can run together, neither one of them is being benefited, really. Giving an honest effort is just as much a part of being a good teammate as running together is, so don’t hold yourself back, and don’t let your partner do so for your sake.
While you might begin your new training partnership expecting only running-related outcomes, you’ll eventually realize that you’re also going to gain close a friend. You can’t help it. Running-fostered friendship cannot be stopped, folks, it just happens. Looking at the motley crews that make up most cross country teams leads me to believe that there’s no stereotype personality when it comes to runners, yet even people who have nothing in common aside from the love of running naturally become close. So, there’s no need to worry about seeking out somebody that you’d normally feel “friendship-compatible” with (not that there’s any harm in doing so).
A running buddy-turned-best friend of mine pointed out that these unforeseen friendships are probably formed because running itself makes you vulnerable—you can’t fake your level of fitness when you’re actually out there sweating—and after 30 minutes of running it’s unlikely that either person can stand any more small talk, so moving beyond that is inevitable.
Don’t seem to have any friends or acquaintances interested in running? Never fear, here are some clubs and training groups you can join to find some new running pals (click for further information).
Until next time, I’ll see you on the trails!