Posted by: Joe English | February 1, 2011

Training — Training for you, not Your Partner

running-advice-bugWe get a lot of mail at Running Advice and News, but rarely does a question grab my attention the way today’s question from Mimi does. This question could go a lot of different directions, but the main issue is this: how do you balance the positive benefits of training with people that challenge you against the need to potentially beat them in races? And if you’re training based on their needs and desires, are you just helping them beat you?

Not everyone is an Olympic-level athlete and Mimi doesn’t claim to be. But she is something that all of us are: competitive. She wants to win and she needs to train to improve her areas of strength, so that she can pull it out on race day. Her question is quite long, so I’ll provide you with the most important parts of it:

“I am the training partner of an Olympic level athlete (of yore) who made the Olympic team only once, in 1996. She’s nearly 50, dang fast for her age. I have a ton of natural speed and have had some shining moments. . . . I have been able to train along side this woman, though she can usually take me down in a race, though not by more than 50 meters or so (in a 5k), when I have a stretch of not getting sick. She also goes out very hard in every race and interval and slows late. I notice that I perform better when I don’t charge after her, but run at a steadier pace—often catching her or outperforming her in later intervals.

How do I best not get caught in a trap of trying to stay with her in training, and train my best and not HER best—-either out of shape or when very fit. She tends to run all intervals extremely hard. I race better when I don’t run every, single interval (regardless of it’s length) to the death. She always runs to the death and performs well in racing. I perform better with decent mileage and more classic tempo running and SOME very hard intervals, not ALL very hard intervals.”

Let’s start with the positives of running with other people. First, they can challenge you, helping you push harder than you might on your own. Second, having a second set of eyes and ears on you in practice can keep you going when you might back off or quit. As my friend Rich Shannon said recently, “it’s good to have someone breathing down your neck to keep your foot on the pedal.” Third, there are the social benefits associated with training with others, including the peer pressure that comes with making commitments to be at a certain time and place and perform a particular workout. Fourth, having a partner to share training goals such as an upcoming race is fun and makes things more exciting. These are all very positive benefits and should be considered when deciding when to train with someone else.

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