Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ultra Marathon Running - The real benefit of a training partner

I’ve posted before about how a training partner is a great motivator for getting you out of bed, when you otherwise would have hit the snooze button rather than put on your running shoes for an early morning training run. There is however much more to be gained, most of which you may not have even considered.

Ultramarathon running by nature of the training required is often a solitary sport, and tends to attract the more introverted (or as I like to call it thoughtful) types.  In the past I have trained for a 100km race almost exclusively on my own over a period of about 6 months, and whilst it is nice to get away from “normal” life and spend some time alone, I felt something lacking. 

A key area was in having someone to share your thoughts, training tips, running gear ideas, discuss the latest articles in Runners World, and all the other peculiarities you come across when preparing to run 100km or more.  My wife whilst being polite, isn’t really all that interested in my spilt times, the volume of sports drink I consumed, how much I sweated, and what I did to reduce chaffing in awkward areas. The interest is usually sparked when there is the opportunity to poke fun, and more likely about the volume of additional laundry created from all to frequent training runs.

The problem with this is that when you are in contact with someone who you know to share your interest, you end up downloading on them all your pent up “ultra-speak”.  In my case this is my sister, so sorry Lyn, but at least with family they are more likely to tolerate this without thinking you’re a bore.

So perhaps the solution is to have some sort of virtual training partner who you can share experiences and discuss running events, latest running shoes and marathons. There are options for this in place already in the form of social networking sites, and running forums such as offered by CoolRunning. The real benefit of these is that you get to share from the combined experiences of hundreds if not thousands of other runners.

The problem with running alone is that effectively your brain is a dictatorship and if it decides not to go running, then you don’t go.  With training partners involved the decision is governed by a democracy, and typically you will value the opinion of others more than your own as you don’t want to let them down.

This is where the virtual training partner has their limits as they can make you feel bad about not going out training, but you don’t think about that when curled up cosy in bed hand hovering over the snooze!

In addition to acting as a conscience for you and being a set of ears prepared to listen to ultramarathon speak, a real training partner can provide a whole lot more to enrich your training. As I mentioned in my post “Ultra running – Does it make you a better person?” your average ultrarunner is a pretty friendly sort of individual, and has a very optimistic outlook. Pessimists would not dare indulge in such a dangerous activity for fear of being eating by a bear, falling off a cliff, or damaging their knees. So the conversations you have tend to have a positive spin on them, and are full of encouragement.

I can’t remember experiencing negative talk with an ultrarunner, as even the most unpleasant of injuries are seen as a good learning experience, or an opportunity to test your physical and mental limits! This is just great for your self-belief, and something I am sure we have all had to draw on at some time or other in the latter stages of a 100miler.

Another benefit of a real training partner is that you end up sharing running routes and trails, providing variety to your normal running repertoire. It is very easy to get stuck in the same old routine, without knowing that new and interesting alternatives may be just around the corner.

All that said it is important that you choose the right running partner, ideally one with similar goals, values and motivations – you could be spending 5+ hours at a time together, so you don’t want to make sure you are going to get along! So if you’re just jogging find someone who jogs, if you’re training for an Ironman or Triathlons find someone doing the same.  If you can’t find someone local to you who shares the same interest, perhaps broaden your search to someone with different goals to you, and train with them on the sessions where your goals overlap.

I was inspired to write this posting as I struggled out of bed the other day, tired after a 4 hour hill run the previous day, to run with my training partner. Had I not made that commitment it is likely that I would not have got my shoes on. The great thing was the positivity of the conversation with regards to training, future events and previous injuries. Had I been alone, or shared my thoughts with a non-runner, the response could have been a polar opposite. So thanks Tylana!

Happy Running!

“The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” – Winston Churchill


  1. I stumbled across your blog the other weekend. I thank you for such wonderful writing, hints and advice. I recently completed my first marathon (goldcoast) and am super keen to get into the world of ultras in particluar the northface 100m Keep up the wonderful writing.

  2. Hi Clint
    Thanks, I appreciate the feedback.
    Congratulations on the Gold Coast marathon, and I look forward to seeing you next year at North Face 100.

  3. i am also loving that you live up towards noosa me and my partner Aimee will be moving up that way very shortly, so you are saving a lot of my time by showing me some great runs! thanks again

  4. Hi Andy
    Thanks for sharing your expertise and advice relating to ultra running, the site is tops, hope to speak to you in the future.
    thanks again

  5. Hi Stonay
    Thanks for those kind words, I hope to keep these standards up!