Solo vs Pair Running

They say “no man is an island”. Well, that may be true. But what about female ultrarunners? Can we be islands? When it comes to me and my running, I am, in fact, an island. A female, running island, smack dab in the middle of a sea of my own thoughts. And I like it that way. (*With one exception. I have always loved running with my friend Cat, who has trained with me for numerous races and also paced me towards the win in the Vermont 100 miler last year!)

Enter my new boyfriend… Let’s call him Speedy (let the record show he would prefer to be called by a cooler name. Sorry, Speedy). Now, Speedy, being an uber-ultrarunner himself, was keen to run with me from the start. Every time I announced I was heading out for a run, he would immediately start jumping up and down and ask, slightly out of breath, “can I come? Can I COME??” To which I would reply, “not this time,” while smiling sweetly and patting him on the head.

Poor Speedy just didn’t understand. I loved running, he loved running, so why couldn’t we share that together? Any excuse I came up with, he had an answer for.

Speedy: “Why can’t I come running with you this one time?”

Ultrarunnergirl: “Um, I’m feeling a bit slow today so you would probably get frustrated running at my pace.”

Speedy: “No I won’t! I’ll run at your pace and if I get antsy, I’ll just jet ahead for a little bit and loop back.”

Ultrarunnergirl: “I have gas, so it’s best if I just go solo.”

Speedy: “I have gas too! It’s natural. Don’t be embarrassed. You can just run downwind of me for a bit.”

Ultrarunnergirl: “Okay, but I just downloaded a new song that I really want to listen to and if we go running together you’ll probably want to chat and stuff.”

Speedy: “Nah, it’s fine! Bring your ipod. Wait, what song is it? I’ll sing along!”

Damn. This guy was persistent. You see, I’ve never really had this problem before. With past boyfriends, I knew I was safe when I said I was heading out for a run – when faced with the option of either running with me or hitting the gym and doing weights, they would pick weights every time…. But this one was different. He was an ultrarunner just like me. And darn it all, he was a better one too.

Why didn’t I want to run with Speedy? I’ve thought about this a lot, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. My running time is sacred thinking time. Y’know when you just want to escape the world and be alone with your thoughts? Take time out to reflect? Kind of like when you bring the newspaper into the bathroom for a long, er, session of sitting on the toilet. Yup that’s what running is for me. Like extended bathroom breaks, these are things that should only be experienced alone.
  2. I’m extremely competitive. If someone runs with me and they are too slow, I get cranky and start fixating on the fact that they are holding me back in my training (when really the difference in speed is probably negligible). If someone runs too quickly, I either get frustrated at my own limitations or I try to run beyond them and wind up burning out or getting myself injured.
  3. I simply like to “run to the beat of my own drum”. Speed up when I want, stop if I feel like it, pee at random intervals. Anything that gets in the way of that cramps my style.

That being said, last weekend I eventually caved. Apparently relationships inevitably have to involve some compromise (I am slowly learning) and so I finally let Speedy come with me on a run. Okay, I did threaten to split off on my own after just 20 minutes, but we did make it through almost a five hour run together without me spontaneously combusting.

How was it?? As a staunch solo runner, it was definitely a switch to running in a pair. I have to admit, once I finally let go of my own neuroses, it was better than I thought. Sure, I ground my teeth together a little harder when Speedy zoomed up a hill while I struggled to keep up behind him. And yeah, when he let me lead along a single track I pushed the pace way harder than I should have in an attempt to impress him. And okay, I secretly hoped he would get a case of runner’s diarrhea so that he would slow down a little. But aside from that…

It was actually pretty cool. I kept my ipod in so that I could still be somewhat alone with my thoughts and tune out the world, which was great. It was actually like being on one of my solo runs in many ways. Speedy didn’t try to talk my ear off, nor did he give me unnecessary encouragement (which I always unfairly interpret as being patronizing). Speedy simply ran and I simply ran. He slowed down when he pulled too far ahead, but didn’t make it seem like he was waiting for me (I noticed a few strategic pee stops that, unless he was having prostrate problems, I’m pretty sure he didn’t need to do). After a couple of hours, I realized that I actually enjoyed the silent support. It was something we COULD share together… And in the end, I got a better workout. I took less breaks, ran a bit faster, and pushed myself a bit harder.

Don’t get me wrong, I still prefer to head out on the trails on my own. But when push comes to shove, having a partner isn’t so bad. And maybe, just maybe, I’ve learned I need to chill out a bit. (But don’t let this go to your head, Speedy).

If you’re a lone wolf: Try running with someone occasionally, or maybe with a running group. See if you can find a local running club in the area. The evidence suggests that it does help motivate runners to push themselves a little harder, so it could be good for your training. For instance, say you decided to go for a 7 am run one morning on your own. Your alarm goes off at 6:45 am and before you even open your eyes, you hear rain. And lots of it. Chances are that you’ll hit that snooze button on your alarm, right? But what if you had committed to another runner or group of runners that you’d meet them for that 7 am run? Yeah, it would suck at the time, but running etiquette would dictate that you’d get out of bed, put on your spandex, and actually be grateful later on for having done it. Plus, you never know what kind of tips you’ll pick up from other runners, even by just see their technique. Speedy is, well, super speedy on downhills so I know that if I keep running with him, some of that is sure to rub off on me. The trick to happy non-solo running for solo runners is to pick your partners wisely. Try to find someone at relatively the same speed or experience level as you, or if not, someone you know you’d be comfortable with. Think about a few things: do you like to chat during runs or would that be annoying? Does music help you run? Do you like to be pushed in training or do you not mind going slower than normal? Pick your partner accordingly.

If you’re usually part of a pack: Try running solo. Really. Runners that are used to having people around them in training will often find it hard to stay motivated when they have to run on their own (such as in races). It is helpful to practice running solo and see how it goes! You can also spend more time listening to your body and getting in tune with your muscles, your stride, and your technique when you are on your own. Download some sweet running songs and get yourself a good playlist going. Or for those long runs, you could even try books on tape…

I’d be interested to know, how do YOU like to train?

-Ultra Runner Girl aka Stephanie Case

Categories: Training

7 Comments »

  1. Great post and glad to see you are back on your feet. I was always a solo runner but I enjoy the running groups too much in HK (and def improve my running) so I only do 1 or 2 runs a week solo now. Catch up soon. Jo x

  2. Love it! Yup, joining a pair is not all bad. I’m glad “Speedy” finally wore you down. 😉
    But really, Speedy?? I agree with him. A cooler name could have been used…. even the last name for Speedy Gonzales could have been an improvement. Ha ha!

  3. I also mildly object to the head patting scenario. I assure you it only happened once! I’d also like to point out that running together also means you can have pictures of yourself taken in cool places where you don’t have top try 3 times just to end up with an off-centre close up of your face!

  4. Steph, good post! And yes, running with you for the last part of the Vermont 100 was really fun. These days I run on my own because of my work schedule, but I try to make it for a group run once a week. Hope your training is going well!

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