Jennifer Henderson, co-owner of the Running Niche, didn’t start running until age 50. That’s when her two kids moved out and she “felt a little bit lost.”
Within the next couple years, she ran two half-marathons and a marathon. But while Henderson had found a new hobby, “every long run felt like a giant chore,” she said.
It wasn’t until she started running with others that her feelings on the sport changed. “I started to love running a lot more once I found other people to run with,” said Henderson, now 58.
While there are plenty of people who say they find running alone to be cathartic, others say they need at least occasional mental stimulation from talking with a fellow runner.
But, finding a good running partner isn’t always as easy as just picking a name from a hat. “It’s like dating,” said Henderson.
To try and assist in the match-making process, Terrain asked leaders in the local running community for their tips on finding the Venus to your Serena, the Simon to your Garfunkel.
Friends with Benefits
Henderson and others say there are benefits beyond just increased enjoyment that come from running with another person. For example, if you’re a solo runner, it doesn’t matter if you hit the snooze button and skip that morning workout.
“Having a running buddy can make a huge difference in terms of motivation and keeping you accountable,” said Katie Helbig, marketing director of Big River Running Company. “I would never get up at 5:30 a.m. to run on my own, but if my running buddy texts me the night before and asks, ‘Do you want to meet?’, I’ll get up and run.”
And on runs along trails deep in the woods, a running partner acts as a safety net.
“If you’re waking up at 5 a.m. to knock out a run, it’s easy to hit the road because there’s some light from the streetlamps. But if you’re getting on the trail, it’s pitch-black, so there’s a safety factor, a safety-in-numbers kind of thing,” said Shalini Kovach, founder of Terrain Trail Runners, a local trail and ultra-marathon running group.
Finding a Partner
If you’re interested in finding a training partner, your first stop should be with one of the many local running groups.
“We host a run group once a month, and we have many people who are there with friends and who make new friends. It’s just a great way to meet like-minded people,” said Kelley Elliott, marketing manager for New Balance St. Louis. Its run group meets on the last Thursday of each month at its Richmond Heights store.
Other groups include Big River’s Monday night runs at its stores in University City and South City; Terrain Trail Runners’ Sunday morning runs; Happy’s Running Club on Tuesday nights in Tower Grove; and Running Niche’s weekly runs on Saturday mornings and Wednesday nights.
Runners have also used Facebook groups or other social media entities to locate a running partner — though local running leaders urge people to be cautious.
“Even though there are Facebook groups of St. Louis runners, it personally makes me nervous when people are like, ‘Does anyone want to meet at this time to run?’ You don’t really know who’s in those groups. So, my advice is, if you’re making connections on social media, just don’t have a one-on-one meet up,” said Helbig.
Experienced runners will tell you that it helps to run with someone who has similar goals.
“There are a lot of different components to trail running [including the elevation and distance of particular races] and that’s why I think it’s important to have someone who’s either training for the same race or is signed up for a similar event,” said Kovach. “They need to understand that, hey, today we have to do hill repeats, or we have to run 10 miles with 200 feet of elevation gain per mile.”
But it can also be helpful to run with someone who moves at a different pace than you.
I have friends “who are a little faster than me and will push me, and I have ones who are more at my pace,” said Henderson. “And I’ll occasionally go out and help someone with what we call a progress calibration or tempo run, where the person is slightly slower than I am, so I’m going to help pace her.”
Everyone knows that a road trip is only as fun as the person in the passenger seat. The same rule applies to the person running with to you.
“You have to choose a partner that you fully enjoy being around,” said Elliott of New Balance. “You might find someone who runs at the same pace as you, but if it’s not someone where you enjoy their company, then you’re not going to want to do it.”
Helbig mentions an important personality attribute: positivity.
“You want someone who’s positive and will help you achieve your goals,” she said. “You don’t want someone who’s only going to complain about the weather.”
And in some cases, working together to reach the finish line of a race can become the starting point of a new friendship.
“You’re slogging through a 20-mile run with these people, and you end up getting close with them,” Helbig said. “When you go through something like that together, you create a special bond that carries you outside of just running.”
Author: Eric Berger is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.