Friday, March 9, 2012

Running Another's Race

I often get questions from friends and clients about whether or not they should run a race with a friend.  I think many runners are faced with this issue at some point in their running journey and it can be a tough one. I'm going to share what I think, and I'd love your thoughts and feedback.

When a person trains to run a race, they are training to do something they have never done before, something challenging.  Not always, of course, but much of the time (I have and still run races just for fun - Spooktacular 5k is an example).  Whether it is to run a new distance or run an old distance at a certain pace, a race provides a way for a runner to test their current abilities.

For brand new runners a race is a test to see if they have trained enough and if they are capable of accomplishing the goal they set for themselves. Many say they do not care about the finishing time, they just want to finish.  I agree with this approach - especially when new to running or running a new distance for the first time. However, I think even brand new runners or first time half or whole marathoners want to get to that finish line and feel they did their very best.  One issue many face with this is that they have trained and will race with a friend.

Here's what we know.  Even if two uninjured, healthy people of the same age and same gender follow the exact same training plan and run every single run together at the exact same pace (rare, but let's use if for the sake of argument), the race results can still be very different.  Why?  Genetics!  I think there are many ways to improve what we've got, but I also think we've got what we've got. I want to make the most of what I've got and I want to help others make the most of what they've got, but in the end... it is what it is. I'd like to add here that most of us never reach the end of what we can do, either because we don't know we can get there or we don't know how to get there or we get tired of trying to get there.  So don't go limiting yourself because of genetics.

So let's say two friends train for a marathon together.  First one. It's a big deal. And with a marathon, if you don't experience the kind of race you wanted or you don't give it your best, it isn't like you can just pick another one in a few weeks and go at it again.  Especially when new to the sport of marathon running.  Running 26.2 miles takes a toll on the body whether we feel it or not, and it takes some time to be ready to run one again at full potential.  So one friend gets a cramp, has an upset stomach, or any myriad of issues that can crop up during a marathon. What does the other friend do?

In the end, this issue is really up to the individual runner.  What do you want from the race?  What will you feel good about when it is over?  Will you feel good that you ran with your friend and the two of you had a great time, even though your friend needed to walk a lot at the end?  Will you wonder, could I have done better, or will you be perfectly satisfied with the experience of your first race of this distance?  Will you leave your friend behind and finish your race at your current training potential and will you feel good about that or bad that you left your friend... or both?  This is all up to the individual.  But I will say, I have heard many regrets when it comes to staying with a friend during a race. And if not regrets, certainly questions...what ifs.

So what do you do?  Well, I think one option is to come to an agreement with all friends and training partners before race day. If for whatever reason one is having a harder time or needs to slow down, the other is free to go.  I can't promise that the friend who gets left will be happy with the friend who leaves even with this agreement in place, but I will say that the friend who runs their own race will feel good about their performance at the end.  Is it worth it to hurt a friend?  That is for you to decide.  I don't believe either decision is wrong. It just is.

There is always the case when you run a race with someone for that person. I have run races with my sister to encourage and pace her, I have run races with those I have trained, and I ran my mom's 50th state marathon with her, for her.  One thing I would caution you about if you agree to do this is to stick to it. Don't say you will and then get caught up in the moment and run off.  If you don't want to run a race with someone, don't say you will.  Be true to your word.  The second thing I caution against is distance.  It is hard to run a marathon slower than you can.  You wouldn't think that to be true, but I promise you as someone who has run a 5:20 marathon and a 3:45 marathon, the 5 hour was much harder on my body.  I'm not saying it isn't worth it, I'm just saying you have to get your mind ready for that.  When I ran with my mom, I had to ignore the runners already turning back, I had to let go of the desire to dash to the finish when we only had 3 miles left. I was running with her, for her and that was the goal of the day.  Was it difficult?  Sure, at times.  Was it worth it?  You bet!

It is no small commitment to run a race with someone. If you commit, know what you are committing to and stick to your word.  Be careful when making these commitments.  Consider yourself, your current training and goals, and be careful.  Know what you want out of the race and what will satisfy you the most.  Be a good sport if you are the slower friend in your training group. Your turn will come.  Be a good sport if you are the faster friend and be sensitive to the feelings of others.  You won't always get it right, I certainly don't.  But I do think there is a way to be true to yourself and others when running and racing with friends.

What do you think?


  1. This is such a well-written post with so many points I could relate to. The first year we ran Liz Hurley was with three other people and our goal was to finish together. It was hard not to run for the finish line and even though it's our slowest 5K to date it's one of the ones I hold most dear.

    1. Having recently run my first half, I can say I felt alone even with 5000 people running the race! But, I also understand the need/drive to run your race/pace. And I felt that for myself as I took those strides past mile 10. I had done something I'd NEVER done before - run more than 10 miles!!! I have THE best coaches in the world and I knew they had me on their heart the whole time :-)

  2. I ran my first 1/2 marathon this past weekend (the Seaside 1/2). We met up with 6 other girls. I decided that I would run it by my self since it was my first. I am glad I did because I was able to run my own pace and I finished stronger than I thought I would. However, it was lonely finishing and not having someone to celebrate with. Now that I know I can do it, I may try to run with someone the next time, and not worry so much about my time.

  3. This is an excellent post and presents some very compelling strategies for entering a race with a friend. Good food for thought! I like to make an agreement that we meet at the finish line - but that we each run our very best. Some day I hope to be able to pace friends or others to a great race. That would be fun. For now, I race so little, I can't look at my races that way.

  4. All very good points! It is such an individual sport, that each runner has to decide for themselves how they want to approach the issue and what works best for them. I think as long as we think about it and know ourselves, along with what we would be committing too, we will make good decisions about this one.

    Thanks so much for your comments!!!

  5. I run marathons with my husband. Our PRs are within about a minute of each other. We have run marathons together, from start to finish, but that was when our goal wasn't to PR, but just to finish. Now we have a "rule" --we run our own race. So even though he might be only a minute behind me at the end (or he in front of me), we do not slow down for the other person. Our races are a chance for us to do our best, and you just can't do that when you are running someone else's pace. It's very hard to find that partner who can run exactly what you do, even if you end with the same time. My approach to get a 3:15 may be much different from his (I surge in places he doesn't, I start fast and slow down at the end). Trying to run with Rick for the whole race would just frustrate me. So that rule works well for us. Neither one wants to regret running his/her best out there. But we are "competitive" runners, who race when we do races. It's different if your goal in a race is just to finish. Then I would say enjoy the experience and run with friends!