How to be a Good Running Partner

Finally! The last kilometer! It could not have come sooner! One last descent of this ski hill and I can tend to the stabbing pains and searing aches surfacing all over my body. Five hours lumbering up and down this ski hill was enough for my novice runner self.

I reached the trailhead and was about to head down to the finish when I stopped and turned around, running back through the trails. I had to finish this race right and that meant finishing with my running partner.

Being a good running partner is also as much about being just a good friend or just a plain decent human being. But it comes with unique sacrifices, our pride, our time, our resources. But ultimately it makes us better runners, better friends and overall better human beings.

Here are a few ways you can cultivate becoming a good running partner.

Believe that they can do more than even they think they can do, and call them out on it. This is one of the best parts of having a running partner. They can often see more in you than you can in yourself. How many times have we done more, simply because someone else thought we could? It helps us grow when having people like that by our sides. “You can run up that hill again, I know you can. I’ll do it with you. Let’s go.” BONUS: You’ll both feel like you achieved something together more than just another run in the books.

Be considerate about what they share with you, not just their running or training goals. Listen as they share their personal life, remember what they say about their family and work. Ask about their kids or pets. Life isn’t just running. Neither are the words a person speaks just ‘idle chatter’ to bide away the time running. BONUS: You’ll find yourself with more to talk about as the runs get longer. Furthermore, you may find yourself with more than just a running partner but a great friend.

Invest in their goals. Sometimes your partner has goals that don’t line up with yours. Nevertheless, find practical ways to support them. They want a PB on a half marathon? Then join them for speed work. They want to run ultras? Join them for part of their long runs to keep up their spirits. They want to do a triathlon? Consider biking with them or spotting them from shore while they swim. BONUS: You’ll gain more experience and more stamina for joining them. Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself wanting to do a triathlon!

Celebrate their victories. My running partner decided she was going to do a 70.3km triathlon. I made sure I was at the finish line when she completed. But being at the finish line isn’t always an option. When she completed her first marathon, I had just had a baby and couldn’t be there, but I was sure to have special gifts for her to celebrate her achievement!

And of course not all victories are finish lines and big races, sometimes it’s a PB or a challenge achieved, beyond the kudos and ‘likes’ – send a real message to congratulate them. Ask them for all the gritty details, and spare the comments of your own similar achievements for another time. Let them have the limelight for a while. BONUS: May one day they’ll return the favor. And no one is a failure who has friends.

Learn to “read” them on long runs. This is a subtle art but run with a person long enough and you’ll know them as well as you know a spouse. Read their cues, a sigh, a mumbled word, or a few scuffs of the shoe on the ground. When you pay attention to the subtle cues of your partner’s attitude you can change the face of their run with a few well worded and helpful suggestions. ‘Let’s walk for a sec, I need food/water/electrolytes, how about you?” “That first hour was tough, but that’s over now, let’s make hour 2 awesome.” (I literally said this yesterday!) BONUS: You’ll have an excuse to take a break, walk and eat some snacks, and reorient yourselves with a positive attitude.

Think about ​you before your run. Having a bad day? Need to run off frustration? Feel contemplative? Sometimes you just need to run alone. And that’s okay but consider that before you head out to meet a running partner for their sake and yours. Get your shit together first. BONUS: You’ll feel better for doing what you needed to do, while NOT being the ruin of someone else’s run.

Do not compare. You may have started running at the same time. You may be the same age. But you are not the same people and certainly do not live the same lives. Like holding apples to oranges, comparing or competing has no place between running partners. As women, we hold ourselves up to so many unseen standards and compete within our own minds to be and do better, often to an unhealthy degree. A good running partner ought not to add themselves into the mix, not even in jest or for fun. BONUS: You will find harmony in your relationship that is free of judgment or criticism. You can’t go on but your partner can? No big deal! You’ll see them next week 🙂

When I turned back after five hours of running and doubled back and finally met Joanna on the trail. She cried. “You came back for me!” I had a laugh and told her to save her tears for the finish line as we still had a few kilometers of hills to stagger over. But the simple act of turning around to run with her was meaningful for both of us and finishing together as partners was better than any PB.

A good running partner is about being a good friend and thinking as much about the other person as you think of yourself and being willing to make sacrifices at times, knowing that ultimately you are a better human being and (possibly!) a better runner for them. We could all use a running partner like that.

Naomi Coker

Naomi Coker

A 30-something wife to a brilliant man and mother of four incredible kids. I run to fuel the crazy that is our free and independent lives.

Trail Sisters is committed to creating opportunity and participation for women in trail running. Our content is always free to read. Consider a monthly contribution on Patreon to support Trail Sisters so we can continue to inspire, educate and empower others!

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