Coach Mike Mead

Running Buddy - March 2005

We distance runners are sometimes labeled as an “odd bunch” by non-runners. We’re seen running extreme distances, in extreme conditions at extreme times of the day (or night) – at least that’s what the non-runner believes. Many of us tend to go against the human condition of socialization, that is, running much of the time by our selves.

I’m sure you’ve heard the term, “the loneliness of the long distance runner.” Distance running doesn’t have to be a solo act. Yet, there are times when a solo run is a good thing. But I want to address the importance of running with a buddy or group of runners.

About the first five or six years of running, I spent a majority of the time running with someone else. I was in high school and college. Running with a teammate or two was always a given, even in the off-season. But as I went off to college, much of my off-season training became a solo jaunt. The main reason was that my college teammates were home, just like me, and I didn’t have anyone of my ability level to train with on a daily basis in the summer.

After my competitive college days, it seemed as though I was running more on my own. Eventually, I moved to Americus, Ga. and spent three and a half years training on my own virtually everyday. I became some sort of a running hermit where I had limited contact with the running community, except for the occasional road race. My running ability peaked about halfway through my stay in Americus. Looking back, had I one or two running buddies I might have had a longer and more substantial peak.

So, if you are a hermit in terms of running and are looking to improve your running, I suggest you find a running buddy. When looking for a running buddy, try finding someone who is close to your ability. They might be a little faster than you at first, but hopefully over time you will get faster, and in turn, you’ll help them get faster, too. Some runners make the mistake of running with someone either too fast or too slow. Usually what happens is you get injured trying to keep up with the faster runner, or your racing becomes stagnant training with the slower runner. In the end, just like a bad marriage, your running buddy becomes an ex-buddy.

When looking for a running buddy, look for characteristics in a runner that are similar to you. Consider age, gender, weekly mileage, personal best times run, running goals, goal times, running schedule and home location. Just like dating, you’re trying to find the ideal match, but not the perfect one (which doesn’t exist).

One major consideration for a running buddy -- particularly females – is safety. I stress to my female college runners that they should always have a running buddy. There are creepy guys out there looking for the right opportunity. Runners are moving targets and are usually harder to hit, but women should not put themselves in vulnerable situations. For example, women should never run alone with their back to traffic wearing headsets after dark.

I see many women who run with men these days. This is great. The women are safer and getting faster. In some cases, the men might be holding the women back and visa versa. Again, try to find the best match.

Another reason for a running buddy is having someone who can give you running advise, feedback and motivation. I’ve addressed this in an earlier column of running with someone who can serve the role as a coach. Unless you regularly video tape yourself training and review it, you do not really know what your running form and mechanics look like. Running with someone on a regular basis will provide you with honest feedback.

A running buddy will keep you honest and motivated. I think of all those cold mornings or hot afternoons when I had to get out to meet my running partner or teammates. When you’re on your own, you have the tendency to be a “fair weather runner” by rolling over in bed on the cold morning or drink another iced tea and skipping the run on the hot day. With a running buddy, you don’t want to let them down. You don’t blow off a scheduled workout. If you do it too many times, your buddy will tell you to hit the road.

There are plenty of good reasons to run with a buddy. If you’re running by yourself, reconnect with the human race!