The concept of the running buddy never appealed to me. It contravened the main reason I run—to enjoy some personal time, take stock of my feelings and thoughts, and restore some balance. In essence, I run away from people and running with others seemed counterproductive. I have been a “lone runner” for most of my adult life. That was until a few months ago when a friend suggested, over pints, that we go for a run the next day. At that point, both of us were out of shape with irregular training and some excess body weight, a byproduct of our common flare for culinary and boozy indulgences. We both desperately needed the exercise, as well as the motivation, which seemed to diminish with every kilogram gained.
I reluctantly agreed. I thought that running with someone else would have been a chore seeing as both of us would have to adjust to the other person’s pace. Most of all, I feared that running with a friend would limit my personal time. A family with young kids and a demanding job do not allow for any additional “alone time” beyond running. Alas, the matter was already settled over the holy communion of beer, irrespective of my concerns—the next day we would go for a run. True to the pact, the next day we met at the park, early in the morning in our running gear, while fostering a lingering hangover from the previous night.
The first few hundred meters were awkward; we struggled to find a common pace and one was running ahead of the other. However, within a kilometer, we settled into a rhythm, and we started chatting about the previous night, essentially gossiping. At some point, I peeked at my smartwatch and realized that, while our social commentary ensued, we had run a good number of kilometers. Both of us were surprised by how effortlessly we covered the distance; a discussion (a revelation!) that continued at the café adjacent to the park after we finished the run. We had our coffee, agreed to do it again, greeted each other and left.
A few days later, around 7pm, the following text messages were exchanged, true to the stereotypical male brevity. “Run tmr?” the first one read. “Yes, 6:30 at the park?,” the reply. “Cool, see you then,” was the final exchange that sealed the appointment. The whole arrangement was less complicated than I anticipated, which eased another of my concerns—my life is complicated enough already and I’m constantly yearning for simplicity, especially in my personal life. The exchange ticked all the boxes: it was brief and effective, and the next day at 6:30 we found ourselves parked next to each other, got out of our cars and started running. As simple as that.
The above exchange was repeated a few times over, eventually turning into a routine. As the weather was getting colder and the mornings darker, the prospect of sleeping-in was even more enticing than usual. Alas, agreements are to be honored and days when I would have otherwise waked up only to fall back to sleep, transformed into days that I got out bed, wore my running clothes and trainers and left the house. No other motivation was needed besides the commitment to my running buddy; the rationale being that a last-minute cancellation would be unfair to my friend who would have been up on the expectation that I am true to my word. After all, getting up at 5:30am for a 6:30am run is not a casual affair; it involves meal and sleep planning, as well as morning arrangements for the kids.
The buddy system kept us accountable and consistent. Eventually, we started seeing results. We got a bit lighter, our stamina increased, and distances that previously looked long became routine. It was at that point that we started entertaining the idea of running a half-marathon distance. A couple of months later we were crossing the finish line, only to repeat it a few weeks later. We got hooked and started setting new targets, notably in terms of the target times for the next races. I am still reluctant to make the big commitment for a full marathon, knowing that I would have to substantially alter my lifestyle to accommodate the necessary training and recovery, but I cannot negate the fact that our targets are becoming increasingly more ambitious and there’s strong indication that eventually we will have to seriously consider it.
In the meantime, a lot of short text messages were exchanged arranging the following day’s run, numerous post-run coffees were drunk over the weekend, many early-morning alarms were set, and a lot of laundry piled up. Unexpectedly, my fear of loss of personal space did not materialize. Rather than engaging in an internal discussion with myself, I rather discuss what bothers me with my friend. It seems that having someone reply to you is a more effective way to consider different perspectives. Who would have thought, right? Key in all this is the profile and the relationship with the running partner—in my case, a smart, trustworthy and chatty guy with whom I share a lot of common tastes. Should he had been slightly less of any of the above, it would have been impossible for me to integrate him into my life.
Now, a few months later, I find myself almost incapable of running a decent distance by myself. I get bored and become self-conscious of the kilometers, irrespective of whether they amount to less than what I routinely run. All things considered, the buddy system works and pays dividends, provided of course that your buddy is tolerable and there is a certain amount of chemistry between you. In my case, I stand corrected—not only has my training and health improved, but I’ve also deepened the relationship with one of the persons in my life, a rarity for someone who has long departed his twenties.