Your Training Partner | October 24, 2010
When I first started training for ultras, I was a committed loner. Why link up with someone who was just going to mess up my blissful commune with nature? And of course the training partner I imagined I would be stuck with wouldn’t be running my pace, wouldn’t like my training routes, wouldn’t be ready to go when I was, and wouldn’t want to do my killer long runs. In other words, my imaginary training partner was a giant pain in the ass. Eventually, though, I gave running with company a try, and now four training partners later, I know that everything I thought before was all wrong.
Having a training partner can really boost your ultrarunning success. Ultrarunning requires a prolonged period of robust weekly mileage and periodic long training runs. A partner can help out on both counts. Once you’ve established you’re weekly training routine with your partner, you stop facing that daily decision about running. You just know you’re going to go because you’re counting on each other. And this is especially true when it comes to those tough long runs. I can’t count the number of times I dragged myself out of a warm bed at five o’clock in the morning to do a long training run in the freezing cold because I knew my buddy would be there waiting for me. Having someone with you also tends to keep you in a run that has gone way south. By yourself, you might lose heart, but with your partner pulling you along, it’s hard to quit.
Training partners tend to develop excellent friendships. You already have your passion for running in common, and out on the trail, you have ample time to share life experiences and thoroughly get to know each another. There are also few distractions when you’re padding along deep in the woods so you can really concentrate on the discussion. Contrast that with conversations you typically have with people when you’re competing with all the hubbub of a hectic life. It’s not surprising that running partners tend to “get” each other, or even finish each others’ sentences!
One ubiquitous topic of conversation with your running partner is likely to be running itself. Who better to bounce ideas off of then the person who knows your running the best? You can work out training plans, discuss shoes, pick apart hydration systems, and generally benefit from each others’ experience. My partner and I conduct thorough post mortems of the races we run and essentially experience each race all over again from a whole new perspective. We also use the time out on the trail to work out plans and schedules for the future, so when the run is over, we’re already set on what running we’re going to be doing the next day, week and month, including what races we’re going to do.
When race day arrives, being with your training partner cuts the stress and nervousness that big events can engender in runners. Running the first few miles at a relaxed pace with your partner can make the race seem less intimidating, almost like you’re just out for another workout. If you’re prone to going out too fast, it will really help to get off to a relaxed start. Later in the race, seeing your training partner on an out and back section or coming together late in the race is very diverting. It can even put you in a whole new frame of mind if you’re struggling. You might even have a friendly rivalry going with your partner that adds an extra dimension to the race. Keeping up with each other can push you into a better race than you might have had. You also get a good read on what kind of day you’re having based on how well you are doing visa vie your partner whose capabilities you know quite well. For instance, when I finish no more than fifteen minutes behind my–much younger–training partner in a 50K, I’ve had a very good day. If I’m an hour behind, I get a little morose and start planning on cutting doughnuts from my breakfast menu.
Not long ago, my training partner and I were running the Coyote Two Moon 100K. It’s a rugged course with lots of elevation change. We weren’t too well prepared and knew it was going to be a tough race for us, so we had decided to just stick together and see what happened. The race had a staggered start, which meant everyone ran through the night and finished early in the morning. About four in the morning, coming up the last humongous, rugged, soul-stealing climb, we both pooped out. “I’m sitting down,” my partner announced, and I immediately saw the infinite wisdom in his notion. We sat on the narrow trail and looked down through a canyon at the lights of the town of Ojai below and Ventura off in the distance on the Pacific coast. The moon shone brightly over the ocean. Stars filled the sky. The air was cool, but not cold.
I can’t remember exactly what we said to each other, but I remember how perfectly happy I was there sitting with him, in the middle of that titanic struggle, taking a moment to regroup and recover, deciding we were going to get up soon, and deciding that we were going to make it to the finish…together. Ultrarunning is full of great moments, some solitary and some shared. This time it was a great moment shared.