“I hope I’m not too slow…”
“I’m not feeling strong enough…”
“Will they hold me back?”
Meeting up with someone – even a person you know well – to run, ride or paddle together for the first time can be more daunting than a first date. Regular first-dater and multisporter Lisa de Speville, explains how it doesn’t have to be.
There are expectations (will you be compatible training partners) and doubts (around your own abilities – or theirs) as well as a desire to impress (to be strong and fast). Whether you’re hooking up for a social session, trying out for a team or jumping into a race with unknown teammates, say bye-bye to those first-date jitters with this advice.
Why, why, why
Why are you hooking up to run or ride or paddle together? Perhaps you live close to each other and having a regular training partner nearby would be fun and convenient? Are you trying out for an adventure racing team or ‘interviewing’ a potential teammate for a stage race – looking for strengths and compatibilities? Or are you joining someone on their local running route or showing them your favourite trail – just for fun? The reason that you’re meeting up should set your expectations – or lack thereof – for the session.
A few months ago a long-time adventure racing friend sent out a post saying that he was so tired of running around his own neighbourhood and that he was desperate for a change of scenery. I invited him to my neck of the woods and chose to take him on an interesting road-run route. He’s a sub-4:00 pace; I’m a 5:30 pace. Although we know each other socially, we’d never done any training-running-racing together so in this sense he counts as a stranger. We had a lovely conversational run together – at my pace. Our meet-up presented new scenery for him and a social run for both of us.
JEREMY GREEN, an adventure racer and orienteer, can relate as he is usually the stronger and faster runner. “I generally try to run a fraction of a step behind the buddy so that I don’t push the pace,” he says.
“Often it’s meeting up with an old friend that I haven’t run with for ages and we have no idea what pace will be comfortable. Runs can range from 4:00 suffer fests to 7:00 catch-up sessions. I don’t think that these hook-up runs can have any other training goal aside from just putting in time on your feet. A second run can have more defined expectations. Flexibility is key.”
It’s not about training
It’s on your own or with established training partners that ‘real’ training happens. Hooking up with strangers (in the training sense) is not about training. GRANT FREWEN is an enthusiastic adventure racer and self-confessed “lazy runner”.
“I tend to be a lazy runner averaging around 8km/h. I walk a lot, especially when the route is scenic,” he explains.
Heading out for a run tends to be a spontaneous decision so he doesn’t often plan runs with fixed dates and times with other people. But, he does sometimes meet up with some guys for a Sunday morning run-walk assault on Northcliff Hill or the Roodepoort ridge. The distance is around 10km and he’s the fittest in the group.
“The pace is slow but enjoyable, it’s social and it feels good to be the stronger one,” Grant says. He also feels that he has a mentoring role. Where Grant is an adventure racer used to long grass and rugged nature, the trails and open veld of the Northcliff Hill waterworks are a revelation for his companions.
“With this route I open up their eyes and get them off the couch, out of the mall and into the veld. Getting out doesn’t always have to be about getting better or faster or going further than the last run. If I want to train hard I could do the same route the next day – solo.”
Social sessions are easy and fun and there shouldn’t be any expectations other than being out and enjoying the other person’s company. What if you’re aiming to impress because you want to be accepted into a team?
Race results and times speak louder than an exercise outing. Physical performance and personality compatibility for any event, whether a staged race, one-day rogaine, multi-day adventure race cannot be simulated – nor judged – by a first-time, hook-up session. Race results show just how fast people really are and what distances they’ve tackled. For me, meeting up to run is about getting to know the person and enjoying the run itself, not testing what they can do.
This too is what I enjoy about racing with strangers in an adventure race. No expectations other than being out there to enjoy the race. Like me, Jeremy enjoys jumping into an unknown team on race day. “You have to take it as it comes and go with the flow as things change and develop,”
Speak your mind
Before you rock up for the outing with this new person, be clear about your expectations. Are you joining them because they’re faster than you and you’re hoping to be pushed harder?
A rock climber and trail runner, SHELLY HUFNER is quite content to run with slower friends purely for their company. She also enjoys sessions with faster runners. “If I want to join them then I need to adjust to their pace. If I can’t keep up then I tell them to go and I meet up with them again later. I don’t like keeping the person back if they would like to up the speed,” she says. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to tell your running partners what you are aiming for.”
PIETER ERWEE is a road and trail runner. “I always discuss what the newbie partner wants out of a training run,” he says. On trails Pieter runs 5:30 to 8:00 pace depending on the terrain and gradient. “When it comes to trail runs I’m out there for the nature,” he says. “The reason you want to run with a partner is for a social aspect; a lekker run with a chat. If you want to race, that’s what organised events on Saturdays and Sundays are for.”
Company and motivation
There’s also a kind of hook-up where you’re in the same place at the same time but you’re doing your own thing (or the same thing) at your own pace. Speed sessions on a track are exactly like this. Competitive orienteer MICHAEL CRONE attends speed sessions at Wits University with the athletics club. “Even though I may not be doing the same session or running as fast as them, for me it is motivating to just be there to run.”
Grant regularly rides with his brother and two friends. Over the years they’ve had many people join them on their favourite mountain biking route. “About 90% of the 30 or so people who have come on this route want to do it again,” he says. “But here’s the catch. Only four or five have actually phoned or messaged to make it happen again. It is up to them as we don’t know if they want to come back and we’re happy to have anyone along for the ride.”
He wonders why the others don’t call. “It’s an awesome ride that is close to home and it is good practice for any event. I think it’s just about overall compatibility with the other riders and the unit experience. The four of us are quite tight and our ride energy is positive and fast but social. We can be competitive with each other, which might put people off. However, sometimes we are the ones catching up,” he adds.
Second session, whenever.
If you enjoy the person’s company and your pace and personalities are compatible, then a second session is certainly on the cards. But it doesn’t have to be the next day or the next week or even next month, unless that’s what you’re looking for.
I prefer random hook-ups so that I’m not committed to fixed days and times – with the exception of my regular Friday-evening running date with a neighbour’s huskies. When I house-sit for my friend I run with a guy up the road; I text him a few days in advance to set a day and time. A friend and I hook up to run together whenever – sometimes we meet at her daughters’ swimming lessons; we run while the
Not a match?
Time is limited and we generally want outings to be beneficial to our training.
I only walk with my mom once every two or so weeks because while I enjoy her company I’m ‘missing’ out on a run. Her walking pace is much slower than my mine so the session gives me little in terms of exercise; just time on my feet and time with mom. But when I’m feeling lazy, stiff or tired from a hard week then I welcome these walks just to get me out the door.
Being a serial first-dater is totally acceptable purely because it is such fun mixing disciplines with a range of people.
Working out with others is social and rewarding. There’s no need to feel inadequate or to decline friendly invitations because you can’t run a 4:00 pace or bunny-hop your bike up a pavement. Give invitations. Accept invitations. And limit your expectations to nothing more than getting out, meeting people and enjoying the company of others.
Training together etiquette
- Be clear up front about distance, duration and pace of the session. You may say, “Let’s do the 10km trail and just take it as it comes. If we want to walk the hills, no problem. It’s super scenery – let’s enjoy it.”
- Be punctual. There’s a difference between meeting time and start time. If the ride is set to start at 7am then you need to arrive at least 15 minutes earlier to be ready to go.
- Arrive ready. Hydration pack filled with water. Tyres pumped. No faffing.
- If your buddy is slower than you, slow down to their pace. Hook-ups are for enjoying, not racing.
- If all goes well, express interest in sharing their company again, especially if you’re the stronger athlete. The slower person will automatically doubt whether you’re happy being at their slower pace.
- Suggest when you’d like to hook up again. Will this be a regular weekly or monthly arrangement? When you’re next in town? Ad hoc?
- If you’re not compatible, say so. Know what you want.
Originally published in the March/April 2013 issue.