The pros and cons of a running partner

June 12, 2012

Before I met David (around eleven years ago) I was a solitary runner.  I didn't like running with other people because they interfered with my time and distance goals.  They also interfered with my time.  Running was a haven for me to escape - to allow my thoughts to run through my head, or indeed, for all thoughts to leave my head so that I could just appreciate pushing my body physically.  Running partners either held me up because they were too slow, or made me feel inadequate because they were too fast.  With both scenarios, I would just end up frustrated.   

This changed slightly when I met David.  He was pretty fit so he could keep up but he wasn't particularly competitive so didn't try and make it a race.  I didn't mind him as a running companion and as I'd recently moved to London, I felt a bit safer having him with me - plus, I didn't get lost.

(Side note: I did get lost once when I decided to go running by myself.  I ended up having to phone David from a phone box, reversing the charges and then wait for him to come and get me.....oops)

In those days, we were still running in trainers.  David didn't really have a passion for distance running but I would drag him out, waiting impatiently for him to tie his shoes several times before they felt comfortable.  The running partnership sort of worked though because, as I said, I felt safer and didn't know my way around and David did quite like it once he got out there (and was quite a natural) but needed me to give him the initial push.

When we began barefoot running, the dynamics of the running partnership changed.  The main reason for this is that we were embarking on a new and slightly scary journey so that mutual support was extremely helpful.  We were also no longer focusing on speed and distance but on how we were running and how we were feeling.  This provoked discussion during our runs, whereas before, we'd generally run in silence.  It felt good to have somebody out there with me so that the bemused glances, giggles and outright abuse from onlookers could be shared equally between the two of us.

We were like two conspirators, slowly unleashing our natural running ability.  We had a secret - everyone who saw us thought we were two nutters, but we knew different.  We were learning a new approach to running which was not only helping us move better physically but providing us with a healthier attitude to running.  By that, I mean that running shouldn't always be about numbers.  Humans are historically meant to run in groups, which is often why people like running in clubs and even one of the reasons they enjoy races.

One thing we've found though is that people do have a default speed at which they're most comfortable.  One factor that determines this speed is the height and leg length of the individual.  With that in mind, my default speed is different to David's because he's quite a bit taller with much longer legs.  This means that when we run, we have to compromise.  David has to run a bit slower than he'd like to and I have to run a bit faster.  This is challenging for both of us, although for the most part, it works. 

When we teach running clients, we tend to work together but we work separately with our movement therapy clients, so it is often tricky finding suitable times when we're both free to run.  We're fairly comfortable running quite long distances now but finding gaps in our diaries when we can run together for over an hour is pretty rare.

So, recently, I've begun doing some runs by myself.  I've found that my natural speed (at the moment) is around 10 to 15 seconds per mile slower than the pace I run with David.  This is both good and bad - feeling comfortable for the most part is necessary I think, but there's always room for a little 'push' which is what I get when I run with David. I do enjoy being completely in charge when I'm on my own though.  I can keep going for as long as I like and go wherever I like (I finally know the area after living here for eleven years) without having to consult anybody.  This is part of my character - I resent being told what to do which is one of the many reasons I began barefoot running.  The world told me I must wear shoes when I run and even which type I should wear - so I retaliated and don't wear any!

I think the answer is to mix it up.  I love running on my own, being in my own thoughts and just appreciating moving and being in nature.  I also love running with David - I enjoy both the support and the discussion and we both have that runner's high at the end, so the post-run atmosphere at home is very peaceful. 

Our company, Barefoot Running UK, also organizes group runs - something I've never really done before.  But who knew?  I love those too!  I enjoy hearing other people's running stories and just running and chatting is such a great way to spend time.

I think most runners will benefit from doing a bit of both.  For those who always feel they need to run with someone else - try a run on your own, it's very liberating!  For people who feel that they must be alone during a run, try joining a few group runs - it'll be more fun than you thought it would be, honestly!

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