Thinking of entering a running race? If you’ve been training alongside someone else, Strong Women editor Miranda Larbi explains why it’s worth sign up to a challenge together.
Over lockdown, many of us found that the way we exercised changed. For me, the biggest change was going from a lifelong solo exerciser to regularly running and walking with my boyfriend. We’d go out for Saturday morning 10k jogs and mid-week shake outs, or squeeze two exercise mats together to do home workouts in the living room.
Many of us have found ourselves and our habits becoming ever-more entwined with the people we live with over the past couple of years. While I’ve always been a big advocate for having separate hobbies and interests, there are clear advantages to working out and setting goals with our friends, partners and housemates.
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But what about actually racing with these people? It’s all very well having a training buddy to get you up and out for a run on a Friday morning but should you run with them if you’re going for a PB at parkrun? Shouldn’t goals and challenges be things you tackle on your own?
Until recently, I’ve always believed that you have to set your own fitness challenges and see them through solo. Sure, I’ve turned up to a race as a pair but always vowed to meet the other person at the end rather than running together. You don’t want to be reliant on someone else’s perceived exertion. Racing is all about managing the conversation you have with yourself under pressure – deciding how much you can push your own boundaries, what feels doable for you.
But over the past year, my own training regime has been tied up with my boyfriend’s to the extent that after I’d accepted a place to run the London Marathon, he joined me on most of my long runs as well as the weekly treadmill and strength classes. He trained for a marathon without getting the victory lap.
And then, this weekend, we got a chance to put all that training to the test. We ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon and decided that rather than saying goodbye at the start line, we’d run the 13.1-mile course as a pair.
As we started running, the speed ramped up perhaps faster than I’d have pushed it on my own and by half-way, we were operating as a kind of tag-team for overtaking people in front. Any time one of us got caught up behind another runner, the other moved aside to catch up. And by the final three miles, I’d settled in and was ready to push ahead – just at the point where he was entering the pain cave.
After an hour and 51 minutes, we cantered over the finish line, hand-in-hand. It wasn’t a PB for either of us but the finish felt special. The medals were a joint effort, team work, months of running together and understanding our strengths and weaknesses. We were able to chat through the first few miles as we normally do on our weekend runs, before mutually agreeing to shut up and dig in.
As someone who tends to get super nervous before races, I found that competing with someone you usually train with is the best way to dispel anxiety. There’s little pressure; you’re just going out as usual. If one flags, the other can push and vice versa. If you need that encouragement, you’ve got your motivator right next to you.
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I won’t give up running alone or spending time in the gym working on my own specific goals. Workouts are the one chance many of us have to do things solely for ourselves and that’s incredibly important. But if you do like training with someone else or you’re sick of spending hours running in the cold on your own, then having a race buddy can be brilliant.
You can get to know your partner better than ever (there’s nothing like having to force-feed someone Lucozade after a hard run to bring you closer together), test the strength of your connection through adversity and bond over the ultimate prize.
They say that couples who train together, stay together. While that’s probably untrue for many, I’d say that couples who race together at least know what they’re getting into; the good, the bad, and the sweaty.
Want to up your running game? Head over to the Strong Women Training Club to try our four-week Strength Training for Runners plan.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.