Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Trail Training Partners: For Better AND For Worse, but Always an Adventure

Trail Training Partners: For Better AND For Worse,

but Always an Adventure


            Training partners can be a very important part of one’s running schedule.  A training partner can make you get your butt out of bed when the alarm goes off, motivate you to run longer or faster, or be someone to chat with, vent to, or simply enjoy the scenery with.  On the other hand, they could just drive you crazy at times…


            On a day when you are feeling slow, sluggish, and ready to hike 100% of the hills, they may be feeling downright giddy and seemingly float their way to the top of each hill.  What they have to say that day may be exactly NOT what you want to hear, probably because you’re just really not in the mood to talk anyway.


            However, after spending so much time together, you and your training partner are an important part of each other’s lives.  Sharing so many miles leads to a tight bond that can only develop after being with one another during the highs and lows of training.  You also probably share a very high level off comfortableness, having no problem finding the nearest tree or rock for a potty break in the middle of your run, for example.


Is this starting to sound a little bit like the relationship you have with your significant other?


            I, admittedly, like to do the majority of my runs on my own.  It is my “me” time.  My time to relax, think, forget…whatever I need to do at that time.  Occasionally I like to run with a group.  It’s usually a fun, social time where I find a boost of energy from others.  I like to catch up with my friends, or strangers, and see what exciting things they are up to or what “makes them tick”.


            But training partner?  Ehhh…That one is a bit more difficult.  I am not the easiest person to deal with for such a brutal, committed relationship.  It takes a very special, dedicated person to deal with me and my sometimes compulsive ways for miles at a time.


Bring in boyfriend, Steve Hawthorne.


            I’m going to say it right now; God Bless him.  How he deals with me sometimes, I don’t know.  I could not date, or train, with me.  That’s not to say he is the easiest person to deal with either, but I’ll get into that a bit later.


            Lucky for me, Steve has the same work ethic in our relationship that I do when I’m training: passionate, determined, focused…relentless. 


            Hopefully this is okay with Steve, but I’m going to write a little bit about our relationship, on and off the trails.  Plus, I think a few people are a bit interested in it, partially because of Steve’s frequent FaceBook posts and check-ins, as well as our “slight” age difference… of 14 years.


            Before, I have described Steve and myself as “young hearts with old souls”.  This definitely improves our compatibility, but does not eliminate the 14 year difference.  I am still figuring myself out, who I want to be, what I want to do…this leads to some complete meltdowns and irrational behavior (like being grumpy for no good reason). I think it’s just part of this transition point of my age. I know this can not be easy to deal with.  Again, God Bless him. 


            Steve, on the other hand, is very sure of himself.  At times, I envy the way he is so content with his life, and what he has accomplished. Steve will tell you that there is very little that will bring down his mood (he is usually floating between a 9 and a 10).  Yes, I have gotten to witness the “very little”.  That’s part of toughing it out through the miles.


            Again, I think I will get there with a few more years under my belt.


            But, I will say this:  I would not have dated Steve if we were together at college.  He would have been on my list of “nice jerks”.


Anyway, getting back to the trails…


            Steve and I usually run together on the weekends.  When my alarm goes off, I roll out of bed, brush my teeth, and feed the dog before I ever-so-nicely wake him from his slumber and turn on the lights.  Sometimes I ask “are you sure you want to run?” knowing my legs feel a bit rusty and not up for a faster pace, or he does his best to procrastinate getting ready, like when I have a particularly long run in mind.  In the end, we always end up piling in Rocky and driving off to a trailhead. 


            Some days, we are in harmony.  Are footsteps match, we move carelessly, and talk about whatever is going on in our heads.


These can be rare occasions.


            Most times, we have different plans on when to run or hike hills or what pace to run.  In the first half, unless  leading, I feel like I’m struggling to stick with him.  And, to be completely honest, I hate being in the back.  I like to lead, I like to pick the pace, I do not like to stare at his feet.  I feel that his pace is inconsistent, aka having short bursts of speed followed by a death march.


But what bothers me most?




            I can’t stand it.  It absolutely drives me crazy.  Especially when I feel the trail is single track and he feels there is enough room for two.


             For those of you who don’t know, half-stepping is: it is an attempt to run side by side with another, but one person is always (purposely) a half step ahead of the other.  Annoying, right? 


            Yes, I do realize how petty a thing this may sound to some, but like I said, I have a tendency to be compulsive and irrational.  I am not proud of it. I am trying to grow out of it.  But for now, that’s how I am.


            This is where the most important part of a relationship comes in (beside loving each other of course): communication.  It is best to just be clear and honest, no playing games.


            For example, if you’re tired, just say it.  There’s no shame.  Everyone crashes here and there, especially when training for an ultra.  There are two options: your partner can slow down with you, or run ahead and meet you at the end.  That latter may be controversial for some.  In my opinion, if one person runs ahead, I think that’s okay.  Training partners do not always match in ability, and sometimes one just has to tough it through by themself.  Plus, you don’t want to hold back you partner, you want to make them better. It’s not like the one partner is going to leave the other one stranded in the parking lot (or at least I hope not).  What matters is that the decision is of mutual understanding and agreement. 


            At other times, sticking through the tough times together can strengthen your bond.  It really just depends on the day and the situation.


            Steve and I have done both at different times, even both in the same weekend.  I will say that it is better to discuss these things prior to the run, rather than during.  Steve is very good at playing the oblivious role.  For example, I tried a few weeks ago to tell him that taking turns in the lead did not mean switching at the half way mark.  There was no way I could be in back for the whole second half of the run.  I like to change every few miles.  He tried to argue with me at the turn-around.  Luck for me, it turned out not to be a problem as he crashed ¾ of the way through ;) (Note: This is not suggested)


Because we stuck out the tough times, mainly by talking our way through, we’ve been blessed to see some beautiful picturesque views together, and wonderful conversations (both goofy and philosophical).  More importantly, we’ve changed and grown, just as the trees do.



            So what makes and ideal training partner? 


            Well, there is not concrete list.  My simple answer will simply be this:  It is someone who enhances your adventure.


            Your “training” partner should make you better.  He/she might make you run faster or longer, or maybe not.  But he should make you stronger.  He will be there when you feel like you cannot possibly take another step, and then make you take one more, carrying you if he must.  He’ll stick with you during your lows, when the hill seems to stretch on forever.  He’ll be there for the beautiful moments too, like when the sun rises and her rays shine through the trees and falls on you.  But that moment, you make not even remember if a few years…the run will only be remembered because of the company you had, because of your training partner.


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