Running solo certainly has its perks. Your pace, your route, zero distractions and no one to moan if you get a little lost. But for the long haul, adventures are generally best shared. The transition from free solo to committed trail duo is not something that should be undertaken without careful consideration, and a checklist of key training partner characteristics to bear in mind.
A training partnership generally begins in one of two ways; through mutual friends or a chance encounter. Chance encounters often occur during races when two runners of a similar pace exchange more than just a little of their life stories as the km pass by. Finish line euphoria and a post-race beer is usually enough to solidify a potential partnership of sorts. A STRAVA follow is the next acceptable move, and a Facebook stalk is always necessary. Assess commonalities, average pace, race goals and followers in common. Run screaming if they use #blessed in their training and race reports.
The next round of assessment should be a run invitation. Give it a few days, don’t be a blister bush. Also, don’t play all your cards during this round. You don’t have to share your favourite route or show them the secret Disas or a waterfall until you know that there will be a second or third run. During the first training run, take careful note of key elements such as punctuality, humour and whether or not they arrive with a cooler box in their car boots. Cooler boxes in car boots indicate KEEPER, and a training partner is less than cardboard in your life if there is no belly-laugh potential.
Kim van Kets has some sage advice… “If doing a long, hectic remote trail: A sense of humour and of the ridiculous is critical, and a willingness to picnic enthusiastically. But I must also have complete confidence in their ability to handle themselves if things go pear-shaped. My friend Kylie can run for days while also projectile vomiting without losing her sense of humour. (Sadly the picnicking requirement did suffer.)”
Your training partner should make you feel safe, respected and heard.
Colleen Knox, “Personally I prefer a training partner who likes snacks and can laugh while cursing their way up (and down) the mountain. These days it makes me feel a little better if they also have a decent roundhouse kick. Respecting my need for post-run beer and cheeseburgers goes a long way.”
It is also wise to avoid a training partner who focusses too heavily on the negative. Yes, we have fynbos in our armpits, we can no longer see the trail and yes, I’ve just taken us up the wrong climb entirely… but no moaning!
Suzie Germs, “Someone who enjoys running so much they never complain about anything while we are out.”
A training partnership should also be complementary as well as compatible. Know your weaknesses, such as navigation, and find a partner who compensates. I’ll bring the date balls, you bring the sense of direction. I push the climbs, you encourage me on the downhills. I’ll go first through the spider webs if you take photos of me looking slim and fast.
Kerry Red, “Definitely a good sense of humour, strength of character, fun-vibe, and someone who has a better sense of direction than me (because I cannot be relied on to navigate, forever lost).”
Zero judgement here, but there are those who prefer multiple training partners, which is one way of guaranteeing that you get everything you need without pressurising one person to be your double-shot latte with soy milk and a hint of cinnamon.
Jono Marc Black, “Someone to take me on the right route (Tim), to enjoy a ridiculous sense of humour (Dylan), and who can talk non-stop and I don't need to even reply (Lucas).”
Ian Hendry, “Our WhatsApp group name is ‘Crazies’ and that about sums up the way we run.
We love adventure and have agreed to have quarterly ‘golf’ weekends where we go and run in the mountains. There, the shortest route to the top is a ‘tiger-line’ and usually the one we take.
What’s really great about the group is we all know each other’s strengths and capabilities. This makes a huge difference when the light goes out in the Berg and we’ve still got 10km to go.
So top 3 characteristics:
In all seriousness, dependability is going to be the make or break when it comes to choosing your for better or worse, in darkness and in light, until a hurricane doth you part, training partner. He or she should be right there, crawling out of their cars at stupid o’clock, if that is what you arranged. They must carry their own weight in terms of what they bring to your adventures, and that goes for their own water, food, charged headlamps, toilet paper and joke repertoire. They should be able to talk you out of calling an Uber, and be equally willing to slow it down, or sit on a rock and take in a view if the moment calls for it. And remember, what happens out on the trails, stays out on the trails. Your partner should always have your back.
Words by Kim Stephens