To become the best runner you can be, don’t train with runners that are worse than you. In this post, I’ll explain what I mean, why, and who you should be training with.
The real-life story that inspired this post
The other day I was chatting to a running pal of mine. We were speaking as we normally would about a random host of topics, many of which were running-related.
This friend, let’s call him John, is a few levels below me in terms of pace, form and endurance, and he routinely tries to solicit tips and tricks from me so he can become better. Nothing wrong with that; asking questions is one of the best ways to improve in running. John routinely makes a point about how he tries to better his running abilities but just can’t, for whatever reason, break out of the current plateau that he’s in.
You see, John wants to become a decent runner and had the aspiration of one-day matching (and hopefully surpassing) my level of running ability. John’s not a weekend running warrior or someone who runs for Instagram snaps; he’s genuinely motivated to develop his fitness and overall ability. However, he doesn’t get any better and stays at the same level. why is this?
We arrived at the subject of training partners when John said something interesting. When John trained with others, he had the habit of running with his girlfriend, work colleagues and other close acquaintances.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything wrong about John training with those close to him, right? However, there was something very wrong about John’s approach.
John’s problem is that he’s training with runners that are worse than him. His girlfriend, work colleagues and family members may be lovely people that play an important role in his life, but they are worse runners than John.
When John trains with these partners to become a better runner, he is, unfortunately, choosing the wrong people. His partners are levels below him in terms of physical fitness, form, endurance and have different motivations for running altogether, ranging from losing weight to enhancing social lives. To expect that they would be appropriate training partners for becoming a better runner would be unrealistic, and frankly unfair.
My experience training with a worse runner
John’s story reminded me of a personal experience I have had training with a worse runner when I had a fixed goal in mind to train for.
I remember this time a while back when I was training for my first half-marathon when I agreed to run with a close friend of mine one evening. Although I had a tight training plan I was sticking to, I found myself instinctually holding back on the pace and skipping the interval training workout I had planned.
Why? My close friend was terribly slow, lacking in physical fitness and had a poor form which made his performance lacking in comparison to mine.
Naturally, I adapted to his abilities rather than training to my abilities because I didn’t want to come across as rude. I finished the workout feeling unproductive and like I hadn’t pushed myself.
The problem wasn’t my close friends’ ability, nor was it the decision to run with him. The problem was my decision to train with him in pursuit of my running objectives, as he was clearly a worse runner than I was.
When you shouldn’t run with worse runners
Note that the key word in this post is ‘train’ and not ‘run.’ It’s perfectly fine to run with worse runners when you’re not focused on a particular running objective.
Worse runners can be anyone in your life including close friends, colleagues, family members and romantic partners. Usually, we run with them because we want to enhance our relationship with them.
For example, a guy might run a relaxed couple of miles with his father-in-law to get in his good books and improve their relationship. Similarly, a girl might run with her girlfriends to develop a social bond with them.
There’s nothing wrong with these sorts of runs with worse runners, and I encourage them as they can serve you very well in life. Sure, if you’re running for fun with no fixed goal in mind then there will be no problem because you haven’t got a fixed speed or distance objective with all its associated progress to worry about.
The problems arise when you routinely train with runners that are worse than you when you have a running goal that you want to achieve like running a marathon in under 3 hours 30 minutes or achieving a sub-20 5K. Training with worse runners in these situations only ends in disaster.
Worse runners will hold you back from your running goals
Running with worse runners, regardless of who they are and how much you hold them near and dear, they will hold you back.
You’ll naturally find yourself adapting to their ability level rather than pushing your limits to become better. You will also find that you want to go faster, further and work on your form, but will be held back by feeling an obligation to stay with your training partner. After all, who wants to come across as arrogant and rude by running off into the distance leaving your partner in the dust?
If you shouldn’t train with worse runners when you have a set goal to achieve, it should be obvious who you should train with.
To reach your running goals you need to train with people that are better than you
One of the best ways to improve as a runner is to make a habit of training with people that are better than you. Those superior to your level will highlight what your weaknesses are, encourage you to keep up with them during training, and will provide a benchmark for what you should strive for in your own runner’s trajectory.
It’s human nature that we adapt to those around us. If you spend your time training with runners above your ability, you’ll quickly find yourself working to match their level of performance. Overtime, you’ll most likely match their ability or hopefully surpass it. Great for bettering your running performance and achieving your goals.
A common saying in the business world is that you’re the average of the 5 people that you spend most of your time with. This saying is equally true in your running life. If you train with worse runners than you, the likelihood is that you’ll become a worse runner as you adapt to their level. The opposite is true for becoming a better runner so it’s well in your interest to run with those better than you when you want to achieve a particular goal.
Some people get nervous at the thought of training with people better than them. We all know that it can be intimidating to have your weaknesses highlighted and to be given honest feedback about your current performance.
This anxiety is perfectly natural but it’s important that you suck it up and make the decision to train with people that are better than you, no matter how difficult it may be. Otherwise, you’ll stay at the same level and your running will likely not improve. The result will be that your objectives are left unaccomplished and you will feel like a failure.
The principle of training with those better than you applies to all areas of life
Training with those better than you as a method of improvement is something that applies to all areas of life. Here are a few examples to illustrate the concept.
Imagine you’re learning a foreign language. You’ve got the hang of the key concepts, have nailed a good portion of the frequent vocabulary, and are starting to get your head around the grammar. You feel you’ve got potential to advance to the next level and want to take lessons. Who would you go to for this: a qualified language teacher or one of your mates who’s just starting on the language learning journey?
How about this example. You’re due to give an important presentation at work in front of a decent-sized audience with important stakeholders in attendance. Your experience in giving presentations is limited, and you want to make a good impression, so you decide to work on your presentation skill. Who would you ask for advice from, a seasoned public speaker or your colleague who sits next to you in the office who you know had once stumbled through a wedding speech?
What about if you’re looking to hone your techniques on a musical instrument, say the piano. Would you go to bill down the pub who knows how to play happy birthday and chopsticks, or would you search for professional piano tutors near you?
The answers to all of the above scenarios are obvious. To improve our abilities, we are much better off seeking the advice, guidance and coaching of those who are better than us.
These are people that have spent days, weeks and months of their time honing their craft and gaining valuable knowledge that you can learn from to hopefully cut the learning curve in bettering your own abilities.
The same applies to running. If you want to achieve a running goal and become a better runner, you must train with those who are better than you and cut out training with those worse than you. It’s simple.
Where can you find runners that are better than you?
If you don’t have running friends that are above your level, there are plenty of opportunities to find decent runners.
Joining a running club if a great way to find great local runners. These are friendly groups that meet regularly in your local area with the common purpose of sharing a love of running and improving. Often, running clubs will also have trained coaches that can help push you to the next level.
I’d also recommend regularly participating in local running events. Parkrun is an excellent community initiative whereby the community hosts a timed 5K race on a Saturday morning. I have found Parkrun a fantastic way of pushing my running to the next level by trying to keep up with those that are quicker than me.
Joining and participating in official racing events, like half-marathons, marathons and 10Ks, is a great way to get exposure to competitive running whilst having an objective measure of performance for your distance. I tend to do one race a month (usually a half-marathon) and book them three months in advance, so I know I have a programme of races ahead which motivates me to keep training hard.