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TRAIL STOKE: The Problems with Running Partners

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A few months ago, I was running up Mt. Sanitas Valley Trail in Boulder with Jack, a longtime running buddy who oozes positivity and joy—especially while running.

But Jack also oozes the distinct smell of garlic—especially when chatting during a trail run. And by distinct smell, I really mean penetrating stench.

We were running side-by-side, slowly making our way up the meandering trail at a conversational pace, talking about this and that, and I found myself slightly veering to the left side of the trail every time he spoke. No, he’s not a well-known Italian cook, but he is known to eat raw garlic cloves on a regular basis. It’s not even that he eats them, he chews them like gum, savoring that garlicky goodness until the fibers of the cloves disintegrate in his mouth.

Every time he exhaled, I was overwhelmed with a malodorous toxicity that made me gag, albeit as politely as possible to make it seem I was choking on an errant gnat stuck in my throat.

I’m really not sure if that’s meant to fend off vampires or just for holistic healing, but it has egregious side effects for anyone running alongside of him—especially those who have adverse reactions to garlic. Every time he exhaled, I was overwhelmed with a malodorous toxicity that made me gag, albeit as politely as possible to make it seem I was choking on an errant gnat stuck in my throat.

I love running with friends, including and especially Jack. I love running with neighbors and colleagues and acquaintances. And random groups of runners from my local running community. And, of course, dogs.

Running with friends brings out the collective, shared joy of running. It’s a great way to explore new trails, old favorites and high peaks. It can be a great social experience, like meeting a old friends for coffee or lunch or happy hour. The physical vibe of running over the same terrain—roughly matching the cardiovascular output while running along a singletrack trail, ascending a steep climb or bombing down a flowy descent—is hard to beat.

Let’s be honest, though, sometimes running with other people—or even your favorite canine—can be a real hassle.

So is going out for an hour with your neighbor, your co-worker that lives in the next town and that running-store group that meets on Saturdays at the remote trailhead near the creek. Taking your dog for a four-mile run can be as exciting and rewarding for your pooch as it is for you.

It’s fun, right?

Let’s be honest, though, sometimes running with other people—or even your favorite canine—can be a real hassle.

Some people are great running partners some of the time, but not everyone makes a great running partner all the time. Garlic-infused Jack, for example.

Or, that dude who is always five to 10 minutes late for your weekday morning trail run, even when he knows you have to be back for an early Zoom meeting right after the run. Or the woman who shows up late and then holds up the run because she just has to pee one last time.

How about the runner with insists on one-stepping everybody, always pushing the pace when it’s just not necessary or wanted? And at the other end of the spectrum, I’m definitely not a speed snob and would never call anyone a slowpoke out on the trails, but have you ever been stuck with a real slowpoke out on the trails? I have slow, sluggish days, too, but I’m talking about the person who just seems to be pulling up the rear because he or she just seems to want to be an outlier, and let everyone know about it.

It’s not just people, either. How about the runner who brings the dog seems to lunge, chase or bark at every nearby runner, dog, squirrel or bird? Or the off-leash dog running with your group who has no proximal awareness and continually trips you up as you run?

And what about the woman who won’t stop talking about her extravagant social life and then whines about the horrible date she had the night before ? Or the guy who does the same, only with raunchy graphic detail about some sexual conquest?

Or that social-media diva or Instagram idiot who stops on the run to snap selfies incessantly—and even sets up timed, run-by shots—just to prove to the world they were there trying to ruin your run for the sake of social-media vanity.

Who’s the worst trail running partner? That dude who farts repeatedly and unapologetically, even right in front of you as you’re grinding up a steep trail. Geezus, who does that?

So sometimes running with others reminds me I really like sometimes running alone. For me, there’s nothing quite like a solitary 60-to-90-minute trail run.

Solo running is my meditation, my therapy, my escape, my amusement and my wanderlust. And while some of those things can and should be shared, at times, I just need to be alone. Although I do have favorite running partners, I’m also my best trail-running companion. And if I’m late to the trailhead or particularly slow or cranky, that’s on me and no one is going to complain about it.

Running is my meditation, my therapy, my escape, my amusement and my wanderlust. And while some of those things can and should be shared, sometimes I just need to be alone.

Like I said, I love running with friends and sharing the joys of trail running with anyone and everyone.

But sometimes I just need to run alone.

Brian Metzler was the founding editor of Trail Runner and currently a contributing editor and columnist.