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The nuances and challenges of running with groups and partners

Running & Fitness
Friday, August 12, 2022

It often helps to have a running partner with you. The idea that a runner is waiting for you so you can run together has gotten more than one runner out the door when they did not want to run. The pace is usually comfortable so that you can carry on a conversation while running. Running with more than one partner is good and can add to the enjoyment.

There are several problems in finding the right running partner. The most obvious problem is finding a running partner that runs the same pace that you do. I have seen two partners running down the road with one partner about 20 yards ahead of their friend. This seems to be true with a boyfriend and girlfriend combination. When one runner is faster than the other runner it is he or she who has to slow down. A slower runner is not in shape to run faster. If the faster runner wants to have some speed work then a separate training session is needed. The good part of the faster runner slowing down is that while the pace is slower, it is probably just a little faster for the slower runner. Over time the slower runner will get a faster pace.

One type of run that is nice to have company on is when the group is training for a marathon and the schedule calls for a long run. Long runs are more for endurance — being able to keep running for three hours or more and not necessarily for speed. I have been in groups of up to 10 runners for a long run. It usually breaks down into several smaller groups at various paces. I recall running the San Antonio Marathon where we started with a group of 15 runners. We ended up with the last five vowing to stay together the last six miles. At that point, the goal was to finish together. Every person in the group finished at different times, but the celebration at the end brings fond memories.

At one time I trained runners to finish a marathon. I set the finish time at 3:30 hours. This is an eight-minute pace. The first miles were closer to a nine-minute pace and we gradually increased the pace after a few miles. We almost always finished within 10 minutes of the predicted time. I ran with one partner that wanted to finish in under four hours. I had to slow down for the runner but it helped them keep pace and not stop. One other friend wanted to walk a marathon, and the time to finish was as close to seven hours as possible. A seven-hour marathon pace is around a 15-minute per mile pace. This is a good walking pace. When over 50% of the runners in a marathon finish over four hours, and another 25% of those finish in over five hours, a walker crossing in seven hours is not bad. The best part of that marathon was that a group of about six walkers came across at the same time. Having several partners as a support group encouraging each other helped the total group.

The one key to helping a runner achieve a set time in a race is that the person has to know how fast they are running. When running a 5K, 10K, or marathon, it’s difficult to know how fast you are running as the only landmarks are a mile apart. If the pace is too fast the finish will be too slow. If the pace is too slow, the predicted time might not be accomplished because of the fast pace that is needed during the last mile or two. For a person that is a pacesetter, the time spent on a track is important. Most tracks at schools are a quarter mile. Dividing that distance into four 110-yard intervals for checking time is an easy way to adjust the pace. It will take a lot of laps at different paces to get to the point where a trainer knows the pace without checking a stopwatch all the time. This pays dividends for the trainer as well. A marathon is 26.2 miles and will have different speeds throughout the race. I broke my marathon into five sections of differing paces to achieve a set finish time. I usually came within a few minutes of my desired time with this method, but it took running many laps around a track to finally get a “feel” of the different times that were needed in each section. 

Knowing how fast a runner is going can be a blessing in disguise. At the professional level, an elite runner wants to set a record. The elite runner hires a “rabbit” to pace them in the first part of the race. There are some races where there are two “rabbits.” One to set the early pace, and the other one to pick up the pace at the halfway point. The last few laps are up to the runner to keep going at the pace the “rabbits” set. Regardless of if you run fast or slow, it is much more fun to run with a company by your side.

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