While running is something that you perform yourself, the more you run, the more you find others to run with. As I have stated many times, the fact that you can lace up your running shoes anytime, anywhere and head out the door or hit the treadmill for a few miles, is to me, the ultimate act of individual freedom. The fact remains that running is also a very social sport as well.
Being a runner as long as I have, I realized long ago that I usually tend to run better when running with someone else. Why is this? As far as I can tell, and I base this purely on observation, having another person to run with creates an unspoken accountability and expectation – not only for the other person, but for yourself. This holds true whether you are running with one individual or an entire training group.
For example, many times over the years, another Sunday morning dawns and it’s time for me to do a long distance training run. The alarm goes off at 5:00 AM, but the bed is warm and no way do I want to go out in 25 degree weather to run 18 miles. But because I know that I have training buddies waiting for me at the local park in one hour, ready to run, I grudgingly drag myself out of my warm bed, pour coffee right on my face (it wakes me up quicker than if I drink it, ha ha), pull on my running shoes, and head out to meet my friends. Sure enough, I find myself satisfied and elated a couple hours later that I just successfully ran 18 miles. Not only did we have a fun time as my running buddies and I solved all the problems of the world during our conversation, but we also pushed each other to run well.
The beauty of running buddies is to push you to a higher level of running. Not only do many of them become lifelong friends, the “pushing” goes both ways – they push you and you push them. Here are a couple excellent examples…
Steve and the Snowflake 50K
A few years ago, I ventured to Kanawha State Park in West Virginia to run my first 50K (31.1 miles) ultra marathon. This race was run on rugged and muddy trails with some very big hills. The ascents were not only intimidating, but so were the long downhills; staying upright was a top priority. My longtime running buddy, Steve, who is an experienced 100-mile ultra runner, ran with me the entire way as we negotiated the two 15.55 mile loops that comprised the course. I was depending on Steve’s experience as an ultra runner to help keep me in the game and get to the finish line.
As we were a couple miles from finishing the first loop, I was feeling great and kept running a bit ahead of Steve. That’s when he threw a bit of temptation at me and said, “Karl, if you’re feeling that good, go ahead and run your pace.” Fortunately for me, I quelled my ego and just replied, “Nah Steve, I think I’ll just stick with you.” Sure enough my decision to hang with Steve, the experienced ultra runner, proved to have been the right move. When we got to within the last 5 or 6 miles of the finish, I was starting to run on wobbly legs from the extreme effort it was taking to run 31.1 miles on rugged and hilly dirt trails. Steve literally dragged me through those last few miles to the finish line, and we both successfully completed the Snowflake 50K together. This is a great example of a running buddy helping and pushing me to running success.
Jamie and Her First Marathon
On the other end of the running buddy spectrum, it was my turn to help push my friend, Jamie, to finish her very first marathon at the 2004 Columbus Marathon. I promised to stick with her “no matter what” for at least the entire first half of the marathon, even though she ran much slower than me. For me at least, the 11:00 minute per mile pace drug on and on as we got through the first few miles. I really wanted to take off and run faster, but I had promised her that I would help her through the first half of the marathon. Plus, I could see that she was super excited about doing it and was really enjoying the marathon experience.
Sure enough, we got past the half marathon mark and another one of her other running buddies jumped in to help pace her to the finish. Like a puppy who just had the leash taken off and a wide open field of grass ahead to romp in, I took off. I waved goodbye to Jamie as I got back up to my usual race pace during the second half of the marathon. Because I had run far slower than usual, I had a ton of energy still in my tank, and I put it to good use. Without exaggerating, I probably passed a couple thousand runners who were all experiencing their “late race fade” as I made my way to the finish. I ended up having one of the best second halves of my life during that marathon, and I was also able to see Jamie finish her first marathon.
The beauty and joy of running can certainly come on most any solo run, but running with buddies will almost always enhance your running experience. People who run, sweat, spit and laugh together - and sometimes drag each other through the tough miles - often form a lifelong bond.