Zippy Mental Tricks: Running with Friends, by Wes Faulk

Written by Wes Faulk

As ultrarunners, we know that the only secret to getting stronger and faster is consistently executing the “sometimes heartrending process of removing molecule by molecule the very tough rubber” on the bottom of our running shoes. This process takes time. You must “marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many days, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years.”  There is nothing we can do to make the process easy, but running with a motivated group of training partners and friends can enable us by enforcing accountability, pushing our limits, and helping us train smart.

Knowing that your friends are going running facilitates accountability by motivating you to run too. Waking up at 0330 on a Saturday in February of this year, with temperatures in the low teens and wind chill in the single digits, the last thing I wanted to do was go for a long run. But, in one of my training groups, no-showing is serious business; anyone who no-shows owes hill repeats as penance. So, I showed up. Seventeen miles, ten numb digits, and one ice beard later, I was glad I did. Those miles were the culmination of a training block, which peaked me perfectly to race a 50k the next weekend. Knowing that my friends were going to be there got me out of my warm bed and kept me from sabotaging my own training schedule.

Friends keep you accountable. The immediate after-effects of a 17 miler through the Quantico highlands in February. The longer-lasting effect was a PR at the 50K distance the next weekend, in conditions that seemed practically balmy.

Running friends also help us push our limits beyond what we perceive as being possible. Fellow MURCAn Ryan Petersen began running with me in January 2016. Less than a year later, while training through an Individual Augmentee deployment to Iraq, Ryan decided to take a leap into the unknown and signed up for his first 50 (having previously raced no farther than a half-marathon). He chose the 50 mile option at the race where I was scheduled to attempt my first 100. We tweaked his training plan and ran together as much as possible upon his return. Before we knew it, we were at the start line. Five loops and a little more than 12 hours later, Ryan finished. I fed off the motivation that his unfaltering persistence had provided as I journeyed on through the night to complete five more loops and snag my first 100 mile buckle.

The first steps into unknown distances for both Ryan and me. Running together helped us push beyond what we might have perceived as possible on our own. Note: This picture isn’t nearly as blurry as both of us were at the conclusion of our respective races!

One final bit of assistance that running friends/training partners provide is helping us train smarter. The grind of training and racing stresses our body and heightens our susceptibility to injury. When you consistently run with a group of friends, they can quickly tell if you’re just sore or, if you’re pushing too hard and about to injure yourself. This spring, Ryan and I went for an easy run, and less than a half mile into it I winced after awkwardly stepped on a rock. Ryan immediately looked at me and said, “Stop your watch, we’re walking home.” He knew I’d been struggling with hamstring tightness, and sacrificed his own workout to ensure I did not push myself to the point of injury. Thanks to his tenacity in forcing me to cut that workout short, reminding me to stretch/massage the tightness, and even going as far as to loan me his quad sleeve, I followed that aborted workout up with a massive PR in the 100 a few weeks later.

A typical text exchange between Ryan and myself. Recovery is the part of training that everyone hates to do, but a reminder from a friend can make it easier to execute.

The above examples are just a few of the countless times where running with training partners and friends has helped keep me accountable, push beyond my limits, and train smart. Though there is a time and place for developing mental fortitude by training alone, I find that most runs are improved through the company of good friends. So, find a fellow runner (preferably a MURCAn) near you, and hop on the limit-pushing, smart training, accountability train; I’m willing to bet you’ll reap the benefits too.

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