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Tips For Trail Friendships

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Stick with running long enough, and your goals are going to change. Your interests might also shift. That can be tough to navigate if you have a close group of friends or a friend that you log miles with. 

When I started running trails, I fell hard – literally and figuratively – and I never looked back. My road-obsessed running friends I had at the time couldn’t have cared less. At first, I sang the praises of trail running to my pavement-pounding pals: “it’s better on your joints,” “think of all the benefits of being in nature,” “fresh air and wildflowers, people!” None of it worked. 

Eventually, I learned that if I wanted to keep the friends I had, I’d have to stop trying to bend them to my will and appreciate that we didn’t want the same things anymore. And that’s Okay!

There are lots of considerations to bear in mind if you want to stay friends with the friends you’ve got – on and off the trails. Here’s what to think about if you find yourself wanting to take your running relationship to the next level while not losing friends in the process. 

Find your people.

Just because you’ve suddenly discovered the love of trail running doesn’t mean anyone else will. If there’s one kind of person who runs the highest odds of being liked the least, it’s the new convert. If after the first six times you’ve invited your old road running friends or sedentary loved ones to the trails yet you’ve received as many refusals, honor their responses and don’t push. They’re just not that into trail – and that’s cool! 

 Check out local running stores and ask about trail running clubs. Explore sites like Meetup.com and Facebook groups and look for connections there too. Before long, you’ll not only find ‘your people,’ but you’ll still have your other people too.  Forging friendships as an adult can be hard work, but there’s no better place to do it than on the trails. Reaching out to new potential pals can feel uncomfortable at first, it gets easier with practice. And who knows who you might meet!

Set boundaries and express your needs.

Exploring new trails with friendly seasoned runners can be fun, but before you go, make sure you know what you’re getting into. It can be hard trying to tell new running friends – or to announce to an entire group – that you’re not sure you’re ready to go the distance. Establish what your boundaries are ahead of time, in terms of difficulty and distance. Not into an impromptu half marathon that involves a class four ridge traverse? No worries! Friends should always be willing to express and respect boundaries. 

Groups should defer to the comfortable pace of their least speedy member. It’s a lot easier (not to mention beneficial) for you to slow down than it is for your newer trail friend to speed up. Discussing, and clearly establishing a pace that feels comfortable and inviting to all will benefit your training and your friendship. 

No matter how well you know the people you’ll be running with, always make sure to express your concerns to them upfront so that expectations are clear. Do they have a no-runner-left-behind policy? What happens if you get separated? What sort of support, if any, will be available on the trail? Will there be anyone to run back with you if you need to return early? Being honest about your needs and concerns from the start might feel weird at first, but it will also add to your running confidence and peace of mind. 

Know your priorities.

Communication is key in every relationship. If you’re recovering from an ultra and your trail pal invites you on an all-day alpine odyssey, get comfortable saying no. It’s okay to turn down opportunities that don’t align with your goals, or what you’re feeling on a given day.  Understand that if people decline your running invitations, it’s likely not personal, but due to a mismatch in priorities.  If you’re more enthusiastic about saying ‘Yes’ to others than you are to yourself, you run the risk of jeopardizing your own goals, as well as your friendship over time. Take space for your own growth!

Like any relationship, in order to cultivate trust and longevity, it’s going to require open communication, accountability, clear boundaries, and a willingness to grow. I never said it would be easy, but if you want to keep the running friends you’ve got, your choices become that much easier to make.

Kriste Peoples is a self-described outdoorist,  sunshine enthusiast and a Denver-based women’s trail running coach with Lifes 2 Short Fitness.  More than just running, she uses activity to connect with her community and her environment while inspiring more women to take up space and run.