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While running is an individual sport at its core, I have thrived since I started running and have benefited from having a running partner. I consider myself a "social exerciser". I'd rather run with a group and sweat with others than be on a treadmill. This is partly because I find it more fun, and partly because I know it will help me get the most out of myself.
Training with others can keep you competitive. In the seventh grade, my first year of competition, the coach asked me to exercise and challenge me to compete with the boys. I'm good at beating everyone but one, and I like having people chasing rather than winning big in women's games.
In high school, I continued to train with the boys' varsity team. While it was frustrating to see the same guy I beat in middle school just getting faster because of physical maturity, I enjoyed the friendship and the challenge. If I stop running with them, I may become complacent about my ability to win the women's race and never reach my full potential. Instead, I like to compete with people and figure out my strengths.
Another benefit of training with others is being able to draw their energy and vice versa. When I was recruited into college, it was very important to me to choose a program with healthy team dynamics, both challenging and encouraging. I want to be a good runner, but I don't want to be in a toxic and "win at all costs" atmosphere.
The Stanford team turned out to be everything I had hoped for. I have day-to-day training with women of the same level as me. I admire them, they make me a better person. We love to help each other and often back off in practice or games to keep the other side from falling behind. The three of us often finish in the top three side by side and run the distance this way.
I remember those days when I was physically struggling. Let the teammates next to me give me encouragement, help me stay united and finish the game strong. There are times when I feel like I'm stronger, but instead of exploiting their weaknesses, I'll try to pull them over in return. If you choose your running buddies wisely, all the time you spend training can be fertile ground for developing good relationships and letting the positive personality traits of others influence you.
Now as a professional player, I don't have as many training partners on the team, but I do try to find an operating company. It is easier to exercise with a person than to exercise alone. Having a "target" to focus on, whether it's the person next to you or the person in front of you, usually saves you the mental energy of constantly analyzing the speed or having to be the one to initiate it. You can turn off your brain and follow or lock to that person's rhythm for a while, which saves energy. When I run, my husband will often ride the bike next to me, or I will go to pick up friends because I know it will be better than going out and exercising by myself.
Running buddies get results.
When I was training in Ethiopia this winter, I chose to join a team rather than stick to my schedule. Some of Ethiopia's best marathon runners are there, and I love keeping up with their challenges at 9,000 feet of grueling elevation. While runners usually train in quiet conditions (unlike in the US, where we like to chat between breaks), they often use the quiet "Berchi!" to encourage me. It meant "Be strong!" I had to pull myself together from self-pity and get back on track as we climbed a steep hill. It adds such a fun spontaneity to my routine and makes me feel really rejuvenated and getting some of the best training I've ever had.
It's different from the way I usually train, and there are elements I don't even agree with, but I think in a team atmosphere it's more than just making up. The result was a new personal record for the Tokyo Marathon (2 minutes and 28 seconds).
There is definitely a time and a place to learn to push yourself while running alone - I incorporate that into my training as well - but if you want to make your training more enjoyable and efficient, get more when it gets tough For support, I recommend finding some running buddies to share the trail.
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