More Than the Sum

Meghna and I went back to Stonehenge this morning, so she could experience the lung-melting joy of climbing it four ways. Sadly for her, it was one of those days when my legs were full of running and my heart rate simmered at its perfect pitch. We all have those days. How many times have I struggled to hang in her slip stream in mile 9 of a half-marathon? Answer, many and several.

Rather than feeling disheartened by my pace, she rose to the challenge and pushed herself to keep up. She didn’t get mad at me for pushing. She didn’t hesitate to say it had been a hard effort. We don’t have those ego-y problems with each other. Often one of us slows down for the other, and sometimes we let whomever is stronger on the day go, to feel their oats and experience the joy having legs full of running.

Back in the parking lot after we talked all this over. It’s good to say the the unsaid things after, if only to be sure you’re staying on the same page. That’s when she wondered aloud, why it is that we work so well together as running partners.

Meghna and I were friends before we started running together, and since we’ve covered hundreds of miles side-by-side we’ve become close friends. Shared victories. Shared suffering. The recipe is pretty simple I think.

But just being friends with someone doesn’t mean you’ll be run (or ride) compatible.

With us, I think it started from this place where we had similar fitness/speed, so we were running in the same “performance band” for lack of a better term, and that made the slight adjustments to each other’s pace easier to make. When you run with someone else, you will tend, subconsciously, to match their foot falls. The mind wants to find that rhythm. In our case, I’m taller than she is, but I shorten my stride slightly when we run together, and she lengthens hers. It’s a spontaneous thing, but it presages a running compatibility.

Another component is ambition. We tend to have similar goals, enjoy similar runs, share strategic viewpoints on race, food, etc. Basically, we daydream about the same trail running shit, and so as we plan daily and weekly runs, our ambitions mostly match up.

Finally, there’s that ego piece. If you can’t ask your running partner to slow down when you need them to, then you’re not going to last long together. Equally, if you can’t be happy for them to bound away from you when they’re on a good day, maybe it won’t work. You have to be able to ask for help and/or applaud their superiority sometimes, and that means you trust them with your fragile ego.

It bears saying, too, that having a running partner makes all the ambition, all the miles, the discipline and motivation, that much easier. When I’m motivated and she’s not, she can just tag along and wait for the wind to refill her sails, and vice versa. Neither one of us has to do ALL the route planning or dream up all the adventures. Together, we can run a lot more than either of us could on our own.

And so, if you don’t have a running partner, I highly recommend finding one. It will make you fitter, and you will have more fun, and the hard parts will be easier, and sometimes they will even kick your ass in exactly the way you need it kicked.