The Power of Running with Friends

By way of where I live–either in a very small town or an even smaller remote enclave–and my own refusal to make the bare-minimum time for running, I do the vast majority of my running alone, and that’s fine by me. My runs mostly go something like this: I’ve got an hour now, I change quickly, and I get out the door. While I very much like this me time, I’m often at a loss for motivation or confidence or just that something when I’m out for a solo run without some external motivation.

That’s been particularly the case this winter, as I run in the reasonably challenging environmental conditions in Silverton, Colorado with plenty of beauty surrounding me, but very little variety in routes. Often enough this winter, I’ve struggled to get in three- or five-mile runs, while mixing in plenty of walking even on flatter terrain that I would normally easily run. All this was put in stark contrast a few weeks ago when my buddy Karl asked me to join him for a Tuesday long run. I was all in, though I counseled for the flatter of the two routes. Low and behold, despite flailing along failed runs in the preceding days, these 18 miles came easily enough for my current fitness.

Why is that? Well, likely a number of reasons. To start, it was simply more. I was also accountable to meet up and to run the distance since I agreed to it. Then, there’s the concept of being in it together. Each of these is a powerful reason to make time to run with others. Hopefully, those of you who frequently run with others truly appreciate the gift you have!

Andy Jones-Wlkins and Bryon Powell - Cunningham Gulch

Me and AJW in Cunningham Gulch (before social distancing).

Just More Fun

Whether it’s catching up about nothing at all, being complete goofballs, or talking about reimagining one’s life, running with friends can be fun in ways that it can’t be when running solo. Let’s face it, humans are herd animals and interacting with others, especially those we’ve attached value to makes our days and our lives better. It’s amazing how a three-hour run with a friend can feel shorter and easier than an hour solo run. For me, this is often the biggest benefit of running with others. I simply have more fun.

Although the main benefits of running with others often come in the moment, there’s also the memory-making aspect, which self-reinforces and promotes the anticipation of such outings in the future. While I ran alone for a huge majority of my runs in 2020, no less than half of my most memorable runs last year came in runs with companions. Among the memorable runs were one on the snow-covered roads outside Silverton with AJW during which we discussed the big picture of life and teaching soft skills in school, a couple runs filled with deep discussion of current events with my college teammate Fleg, and one leading Jeff and Jodee from Michigan on a run/fish over Stony Pass to the Rio Grande headwaters, again filled with talk of the challenges and joys of life. These joint outings not only made those runs better, but also improved what was otherwise a challenging year.

Accountability

The accountability aspect of joint runs is also a great benefit or, really, a set of benefits.

First, there’s the accountability of actually showing up when you say you will. I hate morning runs, so during my previous commuting office-worker days, it was invaluable to set a meeting time that I’d normally snooze through and get out to meet my friends. This commitment moved from a close-to-zero chance that I’d run in the morning to a close-to-zero chance that I’d miss that morning run. Of course, this accountability works any time of day and whether it’s for a short weekday run, an evening track session, or a weekend long run, any of which might not otherwise happen. Get it on your calendar and get out there!

Second, there’s the accountability once you’re out on the run. Who wants to let down their training partners and bail? I for one, am so much more likely to stick out an entire run, no matter how I’m feeling, when I’m out there with friends. On the other hand, I’ll admit that when I’m solo, I’m apt to cut runs short, whether it’s because I’m not feeling it or because I feel the self-imposed pressure to get back to work.

Bryon Powell and Anthony Fleg - Weminuche 2020

Purgatory Flats posing with Fleg.

Collective Effort

While it’s hinted at in the paragraph above, there’s a sense of collective effort when you’re running as a group. These are your people. Your team. We’re all working together. I feel that this works as both a push and a pull. There’s the push of not wanting to let the group and its effort down and the pull of actively and positively contributing to its progress and performance. This can be seen in encouraging one another in a long day on the trails and just as easily in setting a metronomic pace for some track intervals. That collective action, that group goal is motivation.

Endless Enthusiasm

Living in an area full of other running friends can provide for endless enthusiasm for running, and that’s something to be cherished. However, in such a situation, it can be all too easy to meet up with folks at every chance and give in to a fear of missing out (FOMO). Remember to keep your own training needs and big-picture health in mind before committing to that sixth group run this week.

Friendly Competition

Learning how to push oneself is a skill to be cultivated and one that’s been written about many times on iRunFar. That said, it’s even easier to push oneself when there are others around, whether that’s to go faster or longer. That’s awesome. However, in certain situations it’s wise to be careful not to run too hard, too often when running with friends. It’s great when your crew pushes you through your workouts and even the occasional non-workout run, but it’s far too easy to run oneself into the ground when a training partner or a training group becomes competitive with one another while training. In good doses and with calculated effort, running with others can remain noncompetitive, while still helping us realize the best versions of ourselves as runners and as humans.

Call for Comments

  • How often do you run with others? What benefits have you experienced or witnessed?
  • Have you ever experienced drawbacks to running with others?
Jeff and Jodee - Stony Pass

Jeff and Jodee atop Stony Pass.

There are 9 comments

  1. Jonathan Nyce

    I think my favorite thing about running with someone is how time becomes relative. All the sudden, it’s been three hours and I haven’t thought about pace once. It’s amazing what having another person around does for your training mentality. It’s more about just being out there together and enjoying the day.

  2. Gordon

    Social runs are built into my training plan. It’s a chance to brag. It’s a chance to learn. It’s a chance to celebrate. It’s chance to put your own running and current journey in perspective. And you need all of that if you plan to do very long distance running, especially in regards to the accountability! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this with us.

  3. Jenny Primm

    As a recovering solo runner I now look to my group of Trail Sisters Boulder for all the things you mentioned and more. The connection, support, elevation that we bring to each other every outing big and small is priceless. The friendships both on and off the trails are rooted deep in wanting the very best in all aspects of life. We really get each other on every level and can relate. I wouldn’t trade it for anything and get goosebumps just thinking about past adventures and planning future ones.

  4. John Vanderpot

    2 weekends back, for the 1st time in over a year, me and a bud did a little thing we have around here called the Los Pinos loop, 23M, it’s got nothing on Silverton, but for SoCal the 8M/5K climb was about all we had in us, and it was hands down the best go I’ve had since…?

    Nothing like an afternoon with a friend to help make what often feels like an endless stretch go by!

  5. Maia

    I trail ran 1-2 times during the week with girlfriends and then most of my weekend long runs with a girl friend or my husband. The greatest benefit is the company which provides that extra motivation and safety, from animals (or assholes). The greatest drawback is pretty selfish: if I’m having a great day and my friend isn’t, then I have to slow down to support or check in – but it’s worth it because I know they’ll return the favor.

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