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Running with Buddies

I was fortunate to start running with a team as a teen. In most of our training on the track we would end up doing intervals in a group because the coach would line us all up to start each one together. Since it was only a 200 meter, 300 meter, or 400 meter interval, then we never finished far apart. None of us timed anything, but the coach would yell 100 meter split times and our job was to be at each 100 meter marker when he yelled 22, 44, 66 and 88 seconds. No matter if we were faster or slower then the splits, we all started the next interval together. When I returned to running and joined a different team when I decided to go back to school at 28 years old, one thing that hadn't changed was that we would do fast training in groups. When we were doing track intervals we were in a group and expected to start each interval together. The people who were a little faster waited a few seconds or jogged their recovery extra slow so that everyone could catch up to start the next interval. I don't remember the coach ever explaining the group etiquette, but he had put us into groups so we stayed in those groups.

In case you're thinking that all the members of the group had the same race times, we didn't. We trained together despite different race results. Of course there were several groups so people could move to a different one if they got much faster or slower, but they rarely did because somehow we mostly seemed to progress together over the years. Now you might be wondering if the faster runner's fitness decreased over time because they were training with runners a few seconds slower for each interval; well that never happened either. The fastest member in the group usually stayed the fastest and continued improving even if sometimes they got a little extra recovery between intervals to regroup with the rest of the group and maybe were a little more comfortable in training. I guess what I learned from that experience is that the benefit of being part of the group was worth more than training at an optimal pace.

When you run together as a group you create bonds, you learn from each other and you push each other. The fastest runner in the group has bad days and the slowest runner has good days, so the leader in each interval can change from day to day and from the beginning to the end of the session. Regardless who lead the last interval, starting together gives you a fresh start for the next one which was a feeling I always loved. I found that the fresh start was like a mental reset; stop thinking about the last interval and focus on the one coming up. I also loved just jogging around in a pack during the recoveries in between... I think we really are pack animals and being together and seeing each other succeed helps us see the potential in ourselves and believe in our own abilities. If we look to the best runners in the world, most of them train in groups, which means we are better when we train together. Does that mean you have to do all the runs with your training buddies? No. But it's definitely nice to have training buddies for the hard things. Now, what if you're the fastest one in your group. Will you be sacrificing your own progression if you stick with runners who are slower? It depends, but probably not. If you start doing all your training much slower then your ability then you'll lose fitness, but that's very different from taking a few extra seconds of recovery to regroup before the next interval, or staying with your buddy during the end of one long run because they're suffering. The effect on your fitness from doing that is negligible and in my opinion, the benefit to your enjoyment of running long term is huge. I've stuck with running through bad races and plateaus partly due to the friendships I've created along the way and that means I also gave myself a chance to continue improving.

Do you do any of your training with buddies? Do you ever need to wait for your training partner? Do you ever feel guilty because they wait for you?

Photo: My training partner, Mel (left), and I after running the Victoriaville 10k road race in 2014. I had a bad race that day, but it was great to have Mel and some of our other teammates around afterwards to get my mind off it. Mel went on to compete at the world marathon championships for Canada in 2019.

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