Though running at its core is an individual sport, ever since I began running I have thrived and benefited from having running partners. I consider myself a “social exerciser.” I would much rather be running in a group, sweating it out alongside other people, than inside on a treadmill. This is partly because I find it more enjoyable and partly because I know it will help me get the most out of myself.
Running Friends With Benefits
Training with others gets your competitive juices flowing. In seventh grade, my first year of running competitively, my coach had me workout and race with the boys to challenge me. I thrived on beating all but one of them and enjoyed having people to chase rather than winning the girls’ race by large margins.
In high school I continued to train with the boys varsity team, and though it was frustrating to see the same boys I beat in middle school gradually get faster with less effort simply because their bodies were maturing, I enjoyed the camaraderie and challenge. If I had stopped running with them, I may have gotten complacent in my ability to win the women’s races by large margins, and would have never known my full potential. Instead I had fun competing alongside people and finding out what I was made of.
Another advantage of training with others is being able to feed off their energy and vice versa. When I was recruited to run in college, it was very important for me to choose a program that had a healthy team dynamic that was both challenging and encouraging. I wanted to be an excellent runner, but I didn’t want to be in a toxic, “win-at-all-costs” atmosphere.
Stanford University’s team turned out to be everything I hoped it would be. I had women at my level to train with day in and day out whom I looked up to and who made me a better person. We genuinely wanted to help each other, often holding back in workouts or races to keep the other from falling off pace. There were three of us that often finished races in the top three side by side, having run the whole race that way.
I remember days that I struggled physically. Having my teammates next to me feeding me encouragement helped me hold it together and finish strong. There were also times when I felt stronger, but, rather than exploit their weakness, I’d do my best to pull them along in return. If you choose your running partners wisely, all the hours you spend training become fertile ground for developing beautiful relationships and having the positive character traits of others rub off on you.
Now as a professional, I don’t have as many training partners available to me as I did when I was on a team, but I do seek out running company when I can. It simply takes less effort to do workouts with someone than alone. Having a “target” to focus on, whether it’s someone next to you or in front of you, often saves you the mental energy of constantly analyzing the pace or having to be the one to initiate it. You can turn your brain off and follow or lock into the rhythm of that person for periods of time, which conserves energy. My husband will often ride his bike next to me while I run, or I will go out of my way to meet up with a friend because I know I will have a better workout than if I were out there alone.
Running Partners Get Results
This winter while training in Ethiopia I chose to join a team’s practices rather than stick to my own schedule. Some of Ethiopia’s best marathoners were there and I enjoyed the challenge of keeping up with them at a grueling altitude of 9,000 feet. Although the runners typically train in silence (unlike in the US where we like to chat between intervals), they would often encourage me with a quiet “Berchi!” which means “Be strong!” It was all I needed to snap out of feeling sorry for myself and get back on pace as we climbed a steep hill. It added such a fun spontaneity to my daily routine that I felt really rejuvenated and got in some of the best training I’ve ever done.
The training differed from how I typically train and I even disagreed with some elements, but I felt being in the atmosphere of the team more than made up for it. The result was a new personal record at the Tokyo Marathon (2:28).
There is definitely a time and place for learning to push yourself while running alone—and I incorporate that into my training as well—but if you’re looking to make your training more enjoyable and effective and to have more support when you hit rough patches, I’d suggest finding some running partners to share the road with.
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