I’ve written about training partners in the past, but feel it is a good time to do so again. As the scientist are learning more and more about the Covid-19 virus and how it spreads, in addition to the vaccine being available to everyone over the age of 16, the time has come to start venturing out of our homes and associating with others again. Although for many, including myself, this will cause some anxiety and there will be hesitation in expanding one’s social circle.
My understanding of the CDC guidelines is that people who are vaccinated can gather in small groups without masks when outdoors. This means getting back in touch with our running groups and partners. Running with others can add a level of enjoyment and challenge to your running. You don’t always have to run with others, in fact, I recommend you spend some time, even some long runs, without anyone else.
If you are going to run with others, how do you make sure it is a healthy and supportive running relationship? For me the most important thing is supportive rather than competitive. Sure there can be some competition but it should never cross the line to the point that you would sacrifice the friendship or make someone feel less than good enough. I feel like the ultrarunning community and trail runners more generally tend to be more supportive. Not less competitive. It goes back to the supportive piece is the most important.
The second thing when running with a group or another person on a consistent basis, is to set the ground rules from the beginning. What happens during races? What happens when someone is injured? What happens when someone isn’t up to the scheduled workout for the day?
My rule about training and racing is train together don’t race together. This doesn’t mean you can’t run side by side or support each other or even hang back a bit for your training partner at times. It means you have to know when to run your own race and not try to keep pace with someone who is having an amazing day if you’re not and it means you have to let them go when you can’t keep up. Every race is different. You learn this the hard way when you’ve run 3 or 4 100s. You can have amazing training results and then fall flat or worse on race day for some unknown reason. If this happens you need to either let your partner go ahead and tell them to do so and if you are the one having a great day, give your slower friend a high five and tell them you will see them at the finish line no matter how long it takes them.
What if one of you gets injured during a race? Don’t drop out because your friend is unless you need to in order to assist your friend in getting medical care right away. During training, don’t skip training because your friend can’t go and the injured friend needs to encourage the other person to get out there and keep with the program. This can be hard if you are injured, especially when it is something that is going to keep you out for longer than a few days. It is easy to just not want to be around others who are finding joy and success in something that you can’t do and was (is) a big part of your life. At times like these it is important to remember you’re still a runner. You’re just an injured runner healing so you can come back stronger. There have been some amazing runners who have been out for a month or more due to injury who come back late in the season stronger than ever.
What happens if your partner isn’t up for the scheduled workout? it won’t hurt you to take an extra easy day. It will likely be good for you. Just don’t make it a routine. Try going to a track where you can do your speed work while your partner goes at a slower pace. You can chat on your recovery laps, your warm up and your cool down. You can also go to the gym and run side by side on treadmills set at different paces. There are options and it’s okay to stick with your friend at times. It becomes a problem if you are missing critical workouts on a routine basis.
Should you choose a partner who is faster or slower than you? Ideally you will find someone who is close to the same fitness level as you, but if you don’t, you can do easy or hard workouts together and then the opposite on your own. Don’t forget I said running alone is necessary as an ultrarunner.
As great as training partners are, running alone is a critical skill for an ultrarunner. One hundred miles is a long way, and one hundred mile events don’t typically have more than a few hundred runners. This means you are going to be alone. You could be alone for hours at a time. You need to be okay spending time in your own head and dealing with the mental challenges that come with ultrarunning when you are on your own. You have to master the mental game, which is a topic for another time (or you can look back on previous posts).
Happy and healthy running.