Friday, February 17, 2012

Keeping it Honest – The Benefits of Good Training Partners

I’ve recently been reflecting on the value of having training partners. As my running has progressed over the last five or six years from running just to get in shape and try a marathon upward to competing on the track and the roads, I’ve gone from doing all my running alone to having someone to run with nearly every day. Do I have a preference between going solo or running with other people? Well, yes and no. I don’t mind running alone, bopping along to the beat from my headphones, and sometimes look forward to the time alone lost in my own thoughts or mindlessness. But when it comes time for a workout, it is pretty hard to beat the help, camaraderie, and satisfaction of having others to share the work and the pain and the reward of getting through a long and hard session of mile repeats or intervals on the track

Scheduling runs and workouts with others also has the important side effect of keeping one accountable. If other people are willing to drag their butts out of bed for a cold early morning run or a hard workout on the track on a wet and windy day, you really don’t have a good excuse to bail on them or the plans. And almost always, that is a good thing. Many a day have I thanked my training partners for the run or workout, knowing that without them being there and my obligation to them, I probably would have done something easier that day or cut the workout short. On those grumbling mornings where it would have been nice to just sleep in a little later or put it off until later that day or even tomorrow, I am always glad I showed up once we’ve started the run.

When I lived in Washington DC I did all of my runs by myself and in many ways at that time in my life, that was probably for the best. I wasn’t training to race that hard just yet and I was usually burning off a lot of work stress on those solo runs. So, in hind sight, I might not have been a good training partner anyway. Upon moving to Portland I fell into a great group of folks I met through the Team Red Lizard running club with a subset of that group, essentially forming our own training clique with Louis LeBlanc, Bill Mattis, David Embree and Albert Lam. That was the perfect thing for me. I was ramping up my training and desire to compete, I had nearly limitless flexibility for running and training, and I was running with a small group of guys that were roughly my same age and ability and had an equal passion for the sport and training hard. Amongst the Portland training group I usually found myself as a willing workhorse who was happy to let others plan the workouts. On occasion I gladly served as the pace setter or domestique for key marathon workouts of others in the group. We all benefitted from working together and we all got stronger.

Moving to Ashland presented me with a new challenge of moving in the midst of a hard training period and finding new folks to run with. As first I was on my own, with the exception of the weekly group runs from the local running store. Eventually I reconnected with Holly Hight, a Portland acquaintance and past Hood to Coast teammate, and had someone to run with who was close in ability and interested in training hard. Through word of mouth (thanks to Holly) and other introductions in the small running community in Ashland, I met additional folks to run with, namely Bree Ray, Mercy Ray, Maggie Donovan, Jenn Shelton and Bob Julian. Interestingly, until starting to run some with Bob Julian late in the fall of last year in preparation for Club XC, my Ashland training partners have all been female. This was not by design, but more by accident, in that I simply haven’t found other guys, outside of Bob, who are running these kinds of speeds and interested in training this way. Recently I’ve met a few more guys who are interested in joining the fray, pending recovery from injury and the variances of work schedules and family commitments. In comparison to my place in the training group in Portland, in Ashland I have found myself in the position of planning the workouts and more or less running at the front with the ladies pushing me from behind. Of course, when I get to run with Bob it is a different story and I’m working my ass off to hang off his shoulder. Now if I could only recruit a domestique of my own….

One of the challenges of a being a training group is finding your place and having the right mix ability-wise. Being in the middle is probably the best place to be, since you always have someone better than you to chase and there is someone behind you pushing you as well. But even if you are always running in front, you are working to stay on pace and pull others along, as long as you are working hard enough. Being too far off the back or running with folks who are simply much better than you is probably the least desirable place to be in a group and one in which you are likely to push yourself too hard to soon to stick with your faster compatriots. Thankfully, I have not yet been in such a position.

Sadly, I’ll probably be moving again soon and will have to leave my current training partners behind and look for a new set of running buddies. Fortunately, for me, that is part of the fun of this whole competitive running adventure, meeting new people, hanging on to earlier friendships, running in new places, and finding new training challenges. Where ever that next places is, hopefully it has a nice track and nearby trails and I can find some willing fools who also like to repeatedly run really fast circles on a track or down the road.

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