Keeping it honest on the run

[Originally posted on Bristol Running Resource, 21/11/10]

Do you prefer your running solo? Or would you rather a bit of jostling in the pack? They are very different experiences, and both can be enjoyable. But I guess I do most of my running these days with a partner. There are many advantages to running with a partner, the most obvious is having a bit of company on the way round. Even more fundamentally, it creates a sense of mutual obligation to get you both out the door in the first place.

But partnering up for a run can be fraught with difficulty.If you get it wrong then it can be intensely frustrating for one person or the other. If you’re too ill-matched in ability, fitness or aspiration then either someone is going to find him- or herself plodding along at an uncomfortably slow pace or the other is going to feel like they are suffering a heart attack with legs of jelly.

My running partner most of the time is my partner, Deborah. Observing running couples around my part of Bristol over many years suggests that this can be a recipe for training difficulty. Couples often appear rather ill-matched. One partner looks like they’re coasting, while the other is struggling to keep up.

I’m very lucky that things have worked out better in our household. I’ve never been more than an average (at best!) club runner. My partner, on the other hand, is a former vet cross-country champion and female stage winner at the Welsh Castles Relay. Unfortunately she hasn’t been able to train at that level for a while. So in terms of our current training we have ended up aiming for roughly the same distances at roughly the same pace.

More than that, we have, pretty much by accident, complementary strengths. While I’m not too bad up and down the hills Deb doesn’t always approach them with enthusiasm, in part due to recurrent tight hamstrings. On the other hand, once we get to the top of that hill Deb has a faster recovery rate and generally pushes along on the flat at a faster pace than I would choose if running on my own. So whereas when I’m on my own I’d be tempted to slack off for a breather once I’ve hit the crest of a hill, Deb will be motoring off into the distance if I don’t look lively.

Today we did an eight(ish) miler taking in the towpath and Leigh Woods. West of the river is always a great run, and today it was a bit more slippery and squelchy to add a bit more fun. The complementarity hit me quite forcefully once we reached the final stretch through the woods. Having taken the lead up the hills, I was having to put in a fair bit of effort to hang on once we reached the flatter terrain on the way to North Road. I felt terrible at the time. But once it was over I was glad I’d struck to it. Overall, a good workout.

I guess I’m lucky to have a running partner so close to home to keep me honest on the run. I hope you’re as lucky hooking up with a running partner that complements what you’re seeking from your running.

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