Training partners can be the difference between success and something much less satisfying. A good training partner does two things: they can push you to run harder and can also exert common sense on your routine.
Last Sunday morning while on a weekend training trip with our friends Russ and Jada in Wisconsin, we planned a one-hour run through the Pheasant Branch Conservancy, a beautiful nature preserve with running trails in Middleton, Wisconsin.
We all ran four miles together and then the two gals split off to complete their six-mile run while Russ and I set off for another three-mile loop.
I was feeling really great and warmed up well, so I picked up the pace. Russ barely missed qualifying for the Boston Marathon last fall in the Fox Valley Marathon. He ran in the low 3:00 range and missed by only 20 seconds due to some late-stage calf cramps.
He’s also a finisher in Ironman Wisconsin in the mid-13 hour range if I recall correctly, so the guy has endurance. That meant he didn’t mind my one-stepping him on the quicker loop we ran together. I apologized later if it was annoying, but I really wanted to see what energy I had in the tank.
Pick it up
We climbed the first turn that skirts the prairie kame where giant oaks sit atop what is likely a pile of gravel laid down by the last glacier. Then the trail turns toward the woods and rolls along. We dropped from 9:00 to 8:00 and finally mid-7:30 pace. It absolutely felt good to run. But it also felt good to run with a training partner at essentially my racing pace for the second half of a duathlon.
Granted, 7:30 pace used to be slow for me even in warmups. I could not help thinking about that while on that loop that I could once race along at 5:30 pace in training. It’s so strange that ability disappears with age. Like ghosts from the past.
Russ is a bit younger than me, and as mentioned, training for another Boston qualifying race this fall. He told me he was cruising along thinking about how our Sunday run applies to his future. “It’s hard to imagine doing that pace for 26 miles,” he said. Yet that’s how you begin to imagine it. By doing it on a consistent basis. So perhaps we could help each other…
Proving that different aims and stages in an athletic career do not mean that training partners cannot sync up and run together. In fact, I was feeling so good on Sunday it was tempting to dial it all the way down to 7:00 pace and give it a real run the last half mile. But we’d ridden 60 miles the day before in hilly terrain and that began to show in my legs during the last mile of the run.
There were moments during that run on Sunday when the supreme satisfaction of running well with others hit home with me. I find it so satisfying to train with gals on many occasions. Having seen the literal start of the women’s running boom in the mid-1970s, I know how far women have come in training. The majority of runners on the trail last Sunday were, in fact, women. You go, gals.
In fact Jada is coming off a year in which injury kept her from running much at all. She worked hard in therapy and at some point along the way a bothersome, painful ligament fell back into line. She began to run slowly a mile at a time. Now she’s rebuilding fitness and imagining where it will take her next.
Likewise, Sue has been bothered by some hip issues and doing a combination of strength work at the gym, some chiro and other strategies. She’s also focusing on shorter races this year to rebuild her speed on the run. And it’s working.
And the running I did on Sunday with Russ reminded me so much of college and post-collegiate training runs with trusted training partners. Russ and I challenged each other in that unspoken dialogue that only occurs through breathing and the skritch of feet on a dirty trail. It was a joy indeed. Of course I was kind of sore on Monday. But that’s the price you pay.
Because, as we bounced along the boardwalk through the woods where the wetlands seep into the soil, birds were singing and time stood still.
That’s why I still run to this day. I’m sure you know the feeling.