The art of running: nurturing the running partnership

We read and write a lot about the science of running, but I believe greatness is a balance of science and art.  I was thinking I’d try to write a “series” on the art of running.  We’ll see how far I get. My first topic is the art of the running partnership.

I attribute at least 50% of my success to my partners, all of them.  Partners inspire us to do better. They entertain us for hours with stories and jokes.  They share gel and water.  They let us get excited by our accomplishments, no matter how minor.  They join us for coffee.  

A partnership, by definition, requires give and take.  It is more than just running with others.  A running partnership is a relationship and like all relationships, it must be nurtured.  My experience has brought me to understand the following.

Partners are Worth the Investment

Chatty / Social – These are people I run with who are very social. They know every runner in town.  They say “Hi” to everyone.  They talk you through new routes.  In fact, they talk you through anything.  They can talk for a long time.  They make the time pass and are great on days when I want to be quiet.  

The art of nurturing:  Show up, ask questions, relax, listen, and have fun.  Run with these folks when you don’t mind stopping to pet dogs or chatting with other runners along the way.  

Talented / Better than Me – These are people who are better than me in one or more areas.  I typically run with them to improve.  I usually just run whatever they are running and hang on as long as I can.  

The art of nurturing:  Try to keep up, encourage, and provide company.  You might not run the same track workout, but if you plan it together at least you’ll have company. Try to figure out how you can make them better.  They might be faster, but you might go farther.  If so, plan a race together and just pick different distances.

Try Anything / “Yes” – This is the awesome running pal who says “yes” to all the wacky ideas put forth. This is the partner who heeds the call when you say, “Who wants to try the 22 mile run through the mud at 3000 ft with me?”  This partner immediately responds with, “I’m in.”  You might not see this partner all the time, because they answer all the calls, not just yours.  

The art of nurturing:  Just toss out ideas and don’t bail. You’ll always have a racing partner.

Total / Equal –  The total partner brings something special to the table.  Between you, there is an equal balance of who does the talking, who drives the training.  You easily bounce back and forth in your roles. Some days you are the strong one.  Some days you are the weak one.  Some days you are both the same. There is the joy in each other’s accomplishments and a caring over each other’s failures.  There is the ability to talk for hours on long runs and not run out of things to say.  There is a willingness to try new things together, to push each other, to make each other slow down when needed. 

This is a very important partnership and it requires special nurturing.  

  • You really need to like the person and they you.  You must want to spend time together.
  • It helps if you have similar goals.  They don’t have to be the same distance or speed goals, but the same “goal value”.  What I mean is social runners and endurance athletes probably don’t make the best total partners. 
  • Understand each other’s targets and train in a way that supports you both. If you need to run separately, check in with each other, share how you are doing, and then do something together once or twice a week. You can always find something to run together, even if it’s just easy mileage.
  • Have a race strategy.  Know if you want to run together the whole way or see each other at the finish line.  Be willing for either of you to say, “I’m having a great race and I’m going for it.”  
  • Encourage, encourage, encourage.  Even if you aren’t running together, a simple text to say, “Good Luck!  Call me when it’s over,” or  to ask how a run is going always boosts an athlete.  Be willing to slow down if they are struggling, or push them when you know they can do better.  They will do the same in return. 
  • Don’t forget them when they are injured or in a lull.  Part of your job is to help them get back on their feet.
  • Have fun!  When it comes right down to it, the whole point is to keep you both running!  

Partnerships are so important in life.  There is no magic formula to keeping them healthy.  Enjoy the ones you are blessed to have and work to keep them strong.  You and your partners will be better runners, and better friends, for it.


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