How to Find Your Sole Mate
Let's face it — running is a great way to stay in shape, but there are some days when it can get pretty boring. If you've hit a plateau despite trying new territories and techniques, it might be time to add something to your workout: a running buddy.
Running with a partner can help the clock tick faster, while boosting your mile time. But not all friends make great pals to pound the pavement with. Blue Benadum, a California-based running coach, marathoner, and Lululemon brand ambassador, shares some important things to keep in mind when finding someone who's at your speed.
Define Your Level and Your Goals
Before you set off on a group trot, Benadum suggests sitting down sans buddy and figuring out what your goals are. "If you're running for the social aspect, to help you get outdoors, and to enjoy the process of the experience, you'll be looking for someone a little different than if you are training for an upcoming race," Benadum says. "In a social run, it's easy to have a variety of runners at different levels for the purpose of having a good time. But if you're looking to be pushed, identify what level runner you are, and then try to find a friend who is equal or slightly faster than you."
Luckily, you can have your cake-flavored GU packs and eat them too. There's no rule that says you can only have one running buddy! Benadum suggests finding different partners for different occasions. Ask some friends to join you for a fun run on Tuesdays and then find a friend to help push you for an intense training run on Thursdays.
Pick the Right Personality
Just like in the dating world, you'll probably have better success if you seek out a running friend whose personality matches yours, rather than clashes. For example, if you have a friend who consistently bails last minute and leaves you jogging solo, you'll end up more frustrated than inspired. If this ends up being the case, be honest. Tell your friend you love spending time with them but really need someone who sticks to the schedule so you can be held accountable for logging your daily miles. She'll either step up to the plate, or bow out — in which case you can save your quality time together for going-out nights instead.
On the flip side, a super-competitive pal can also get pretty annoying. Pick someone who is training for a similar distance you are and make sure your paces match up. If your friend doesn't have any races planned, explain to her that you'd love to have her join you to help you pace for your upcoming race. Just make sure you return the favor and do the same when it's her turn to start training for something.
One of the most common mistakes in choosing a running partner — which often ends in overtraining and risking injury — is running with someone who is on a significantly higher performance level than you, or who turns every run into a race.
"If one runner is a lot stronger, that person will always be pushing the pace," Benadum says. "The weaker runner won't magically rise to the level of the stronger runner just by trying to keep up all the time. Your running performance is improved by training for the right amount of time at different levels of intensity. Too much of one or the other will have adverse effects."
Not sure if your partner is pushing you too hard? Invest in a heart rate monitor like the Garmin Forerunner 410 ($249, garmin.com). It allows you to gauge how hard your body is working, regardless of what you think your level of exertion is. It also tracks time, miles, and calories burned by uploading data onto your computer after a run, so you can track your weekly progress.
Make New Friends
With all of the above in mind, realize that the title "best friend" doesn't mean "best" for everything. If you look to your friend to gab and gripe with, going on a run together isn't going to kill two birds with one stone.
But don't be bummed — running can actually be a way to make new friends. Ask a coworker who regularly runs to join you for a jog or join a local running club through the Road Runners Club of America (visit rrca.org for more information) to meet a network of striders to keep you going. "You want to find a winning balance of inspiration, accountability, motivation, hard work, and hopefully some good laughs and memories to boot," Benadum says.
Don't have the right schedule for a group? Benadum suggests looking into one of these sites to find a partner:
"Getting feedback is great fuel for running even if you don't have a partner," Benadum says. "Posting runs on social sites like Daily Mile and even Facebook offers the opportunity to always get feedback from other runners."
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, June 2012.