A decade and three children stood between 37-year-old Jennifer Lonneman and her last marathon. Training solo near her home in a Cincinnati suburb, she couldn't seem to go faster than 10 minutes per mile and wondered if a little company might help. So she started running with a small group. "Every little push, every person who was faster became the invisible rope pulling me along," says Lonneman. A year later she ran a marathon in 3:53. "My partners keep me running smart."
"You're more focused, and less distracted by pain when others are watching or running with you," says Portenga, who is also the sports psychologist for USA Track & Field. "The key is to find someone who keeps you focused on your goal."benefit from group training. Less experienced striders may find that the accountability a partner provides is what they need to commit to a 5 a.m. run. More motivated runners prize buddies for helping them add miles and shave minutes. To maximize the advantages of this crucial alliance, keep a few principles in mind.
Finding others who run isn't hard—strike up a conversation with a runner you frequently see at the park, ask a colleague if you can tag along on his lunchtime workout, or search the listings at a social site like dailymile.com. Finding someone you want to run with again and again is a little trickier. Be prepared to ask—and answer—direct questions about training schedules, as well as short-and long-term goals, says Portenga. You want to know up front if you have common expectations and a similar workout ethic. Do at least two trial runs before you commit to more. You'll know pretty quickly if the other person is positive and reliable.
Make Pace a Priority
The big-picture goal doesn't have to be the same for each runner as long as an aspect of the training is shared. For instance, a runner training for a 5K could do track work with someone signed up for a 10K, while a 10K racer and a marathoner could pair up for short runs, as long as they agree about their preferred pace beforehand. "Pace is even more important than compatibility," says Barbara Walker, Ph.D., a sports psychologist and founder of the consulting firm the Center for Human Performance in Cincinnati. "You aren't going to be happy if you don't run your pace, if you feel too fast or too slow for the group."
More: 4 Tips for Group Runs