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What are strategies for running with a faster or slower friend and still getting a good workout?
—Robyn Reed, Minneapolis, MN
There are few relationships as meaningful as running partner, besides possibly life partner or donut vendor. A running partner is there for you during good times and bad times (a lot like donuts). But, similar to a long-term relationship with donuts, the running-partner relationship has potential downsides. What if the two partners are at different fitness or fatigue levels on any given day?
Being a good running partner takes work, just like being a good life partner. Over the course of the last seven years, my wife, Megan, and I have developed three rules that we communicate to everyone we coach.
First, set your goals and intentions for the run prior to starting. Hammering your partner without warning is not a good way to keep a partner. So if one partner is faster, do workouts separately, and warm-ups, easy recoveries and cool-downs together. Meanwhile, if the intention is an easy or recovery run, neither partner should feel pressure to hang on to the other. Find a mutually agreeable effort level, erring on the side of easy.
Second, the person who would be slower in a race should lead all uphills and singletrack trails. There is little worse in a running partner relationship than working your butt off when the other person is effortlessly floating up the trail in front of you. If the slower person leads all the tough and narrow sections, he or she can run without getting shredded by pace increases that might not be clear to the faster runner.
Third, talk about individual running styles and gender differences before heading out the door. Some runners like to run harder than others, and both partners need to adapt if their baseline exertion levels are different. Early in our relationship, I was the turtle, and Megan was the hare. We decided that for us to run together, I needed to get my rabbit on. Similarly, by understanding gender differences, we knew that Megan was the better runner, even if I was a bit faster head-to-head. This allowed us to take our egos out of the way.
Setting intentions and talking about running styles can help you maximize your compatibility. And if you’re anything like Megan and me, talking about it early can even help you find a running partner for life.