I've have been meaning to write this post for a while and I have kept forgetting, but after a solo 20 miler on Sunday, I was reminded of why I love having running friends.
Chances are, if you are a runner, at one time or another you have ran with another runner or at least thought about it. A good training partner can be the difference between suffering through a long training run, and having an amazing 20 mile chat. They can teach you things, support you, encourage you, motivate you, and share in your triumphs.
However, the hardest part is finding the right running partner for you. More accurately, you have to allow your running partner to find you. Maybe it's at a group run. Maybe it's a meetup group. Or maybe it's a social media connection. Whatever it may be, it may take time and trials of finding the right partner. It sounds silly, I know, but your running partner is like starting a new relationship...you can't force it.
So I thought I would share the story of how I found my running partner, whom (if you've read my posts) you know I consider to be like a second father to me.
I had always been a solo runner. I swore I would never run with anyone, because I liked having "me" time and couldn't imagine having to hold pace with another runner or trying to talk while running. I also knew that anyone with you on a run sees some pretty unflattering things about you, to say the least, and couldn't imagine letting someone in like that.
My best friend and I would go to do our training runs in the same place, but we had VERY different paces (like 2 mins/mile) and so we would just run and then meet up at the end to get food. In May of 2014, she and I were both training for the Cleveland half and found out her uncle Jim would be running. I met him for the first time at the race and found out we had similar paces. Later in June, he and I met up for a couple training runs together since we both were training for our first full marathons.
After a few weeks, he introduced me to Cleveland West Road Runners, a running club he had found. I was hesitant to join a club, thinking that it wasn't for me, but he assured me it would be fun. I showed up and was instantly welcomed. I returned every week after that to run with Jim and the Saturday run club. We did all of our long training runs with the group, usually sticking with a few members (Rich, Beth, and Mike). Eventually though, Jim's marathon happened about a month before mine and afterwards, he left to join another club with a focus on speed and trails.
After Jim left, I bounced between running with different members of the club throughout my recovery from my marathon. As I registered for the Cleveland 2015 half marathon, I had a goal time in mind of running a 1:45 half marathon. I turned to running faster training runs, which led to me doing a lot of my training alongside Mike, who was training to knockdown his 10k time before Cleveland and the national senior games, in which he would be competing.
Before I knew it we were doing all of our runs together, as we were the club members travelling the farthest distance in the winter. Mike has over 40 years of running experience, including several Boston marathons and collegiate running experience, so he was constantly providing me with tips and advice. We both ran Cleveland (me the half and him the 10k) and when I finished the half I was surprised to see him waiting to watch me cross to see if I got my goal time (I didn't) because I hadn't asked him to do that and we never discussed it. He supported me and cheered me up, commending me on a great race and PR despite awful conditions.
After I recovered and Mike went to the National Senior Games, we both began fall marathon training (me Free Press and him Towpath) and he shifted his training plan to align with mine. He helped me to pick realistic time goals, kept me on pace for training runs, and we started long runs at 6:30am to beat the heat. Our run club started referring to us as running buddies and would ask each other where the other was if one of us was every absent.
Eventually, we worked a half marathon into our training plan and ran it together. It was the Rock Hall Half Marathon and it was the first time I ever ran a race with someone else. It was great. He held me on pace and we distracted each other with stories and comments. When my foot started acting up around mile 10, he refused to leave me and backed down the pace. He held with me through the rough part, but forced me to kick it up near the end when we realized I was going to PR. He helped me run in to a new 3 minute PR.
After the race, we continued marathon training together and he ran another half in the middle of September to try to qualify for the NYC Marathon. I worked the water stop with the club, and cheered for him as he streamed by. When he came up a little short in the end, I texted him support as he had done for me in Cleveland. In early October, he ran the Towpath Marathon to try to BQ. I cheered at the half marathon mark as he surged by ahead of his goal time for the half. I waited with his wife and another club member at the finish for him, knowing a 3:37 would get him in to Boston. Around the 3:35 mark we saw him and we all went nuts, knowing he was going to Boston. It was at that moment, I knew I had to go to Boston in 2017.
Since then, we have supported each other in countless races and planned to run the Cleveland full together where he will help pace me to a BQ. He has been guiding me in my training and helping me understand how to work in speed work and increase the mileage. Even more so, I found a friend, with whom I discuss my career, education, life, goals, etc. The entire club gets together outside of running for meals, parties, and get togethers.
That's the story of how I found my running partner who has made me a better runner and improved my running experience. While I can't tell you exactly how to find your "Mike", I can say that you may have to step outside of your comfort zone to do it. I also have to say that even if you think that group running is not for you, try it at least once before you make that decision. It could change your running for the better and you may make a friend for life.