Experts have suggested that training partners are essential aspects of successful fitness endeavors. Running or walking buddies keep us honest and accountable, they keep us on our pace or distance targets and they keep us going. Exercising together can also keep us safer when we're out on the trails. But training with someone is like a tender new bloom, and must be nurtured.
A good running or walking buddy is first and foremost someone with whom you share a common goal, even if one of you is faster or fitter or more experienced. This ideal person will be able to keep relative pace, or vice versa, with you, and want to cover the same distance. He or she will also be committed to meeting, but flexible enough to beg off or forgive you for bailing when the need arises. In a running or walking friendship, the pair must also be able to honestly assess how races and runs are to be handled. Some running partners never leave each other during races, and others are totally fine if one wants to work harder for a PR. These are entirely relative to the friendship. Finally, a good running or walking friend will be someone whose personality you can tolerate for long periods of time during which you may be experiencing fatigue, frustration, elation or various and sundry human emotions. Not to put too fine a point on it, finding the perfect running or walking mate is not something to take lightly.
I got lucky. I met mine at the Wal-Mart at 81st and Lewis. Our kids were in preschool together, and I had seen her in passing, but when we stopped to chat in the produce section some 9 years ago, I had no idea she would become one of my dearest friends, and my staunchest, most loyal, most challenging running partner.
She trained faithfully with me for my first half marathon. It was my bright idea to run on the west side of the river, on the Katy trail. It was her bright idea to turn left instead of right, and we found ourselves on a private pig farm, well beyond the trail. Together, and with much resentment, we clambered over some restricted hills and found our way back to the road, where we called my husband to rescue us. I was hot, hungry, dirty and annoyed, and I couldn't imagine having done that with anyone else.
She's the one who shared a bed and breakfast room with me the night before our first half marathon. We woke to thunder and lightning and the coldest May 1st in Oklahoma history. We wore stolen trash bags and ran that ridiculous race, freezing, wet and having so much fun. (If fun is the right word.)
She's the one who advised me in a later race to eat a banana. When I replied, "Don't tell me what to do," in my angry voice, she laughed and handed me a banana. I ate the banana and felt better.
She's the one who saves all her naughtiest jokes for the last mile of long runs. She knows I am, by then, cranky and desperate to be finished. She knows I can't do anything but laugh because all of my appropriate filters have long ago given way to fatigue.
I trust her to remind me to apply Body Glide, to get me moving when I don't feel like it. I rely on her to go one more mile, to make me laugh when I feel like crying. I need her to challenge me on paces and distances. I need her gentle voice to reassure me after a bad workout. I need her as much as I need running.
This friendship was an organic outcropping of life experience. At the same time, joining a training program has only increased my stable of running pals. It can be like walking into a party where you only know the host, but over a season of training, it's only natural that members of a NoBo or Pathways group fall into a relational rhythm. If you're having trouble finding like-minded athletes, ask your coach to introduce you to someone. Listen and observe the conversations, and don't be afraid to jump into a post-run social event. Try running from a different location every so often so you can meet a different coach or group of athletes. Tweener runs, those casually hobbled together Saturday runs that happen between Fleet Feet sessions are another way to meet new partners. On these runs or walks, you can join a new pace group or try a different distance. Runners could even hop into a walking group one Saturday, just for kicks. Most of all, make a habit of new habits. You never know where you might find your perfect workout mate.