Training partners are a special commodity. I've run with hundreds of people in my life. People faster than I am. People slower than I am. People who don't even consider themselves runners. With strangers too. I'm a runner, and so it's just natural that I end up running with other folks.
But out of those hundreds of people there are a handful that I would call running buddies. You runners out there know just how hard it is to find that guy or girl that you just click with. There are so many things that can go wrong, that it's the rarest of things to actually find someone to train with who suits your temperament. Most runners fall into at least one of the following categories, making them more or less unsuitable for that special "running buddy" designation.
[F-bomb alert for sensitive readers.]
1. Half steppers. You know who you are. Or probably, you don't, or you would knock that shit off. There is a special zone, exactly half a step in front of the next runner, that has the magical property of inciting the runner who is a little behind to speed up. If you run half a step in front of me, unconsciously I will pick up the pace so we can run side by side and chat or what have you. But you will, then, unconsciously, match my acceleration so you are exactly half a step in front. Close enough to be running with me, but far enough in front to be ahead. Next thing we know our easy run has dropped to 5:45 pace and we're knocking babies out of strollers and grandmas off their walkers and hurdling dogs on leashes all because you can't freaking stand NOT to be in front. So, yeah, you half-steppers out there. Ever wonder why you're always running alone?
2. Let's talk about me. The conversational equivalent of the half-stepper is the runner that is cognitively unable to talk or think about anything during the run except his or her own running. Runners naturally love to talk about running, and people naturally like to talk about themselves. So, it's understandable from a certain point of view. And even interesting up to a point. But you might be bordering on the unbearable if you mention your placement in the last race more than three times in a single run. If you find yourself giving a blow-by-blow account of yesterday's easy 8 miler following on the heels of a 15 minute spiel on your race preparation, then maybe it's time to ask me how my running's going. Or, Jesus forbid, talk about something that doesn't have anything to do with running. Or anything to do with you. That would be nice. Every now and then.
3. Overly Ingratiating. I'm faster than you. I get it. But yes, I'm still running with you. Why? Because tomorrow I'm running hard. Because I actually like running slow every now and then. Because running with someone else is better than running by myself. So, yes, you are running fast enough. Quit thanking me for slowing down. I'd actually enjoy the easier day and your company if you could just relax and run with me for a little while. 'Prec.
p.s. Maybe you would get a little faster if you'd quit asking me for training advice and just fucking run!
4. Gizmo Dude. Do you have to beep every mile? Do we have to adjust the pace every time you look down at your wrist? Seriously, dude. Get a grip.
5. Alpha Dog. The half-stepper is like a one-year-old golden retriever who has been cooped up in a house all day. His fault is obliviousness. It can even be kinda endearing in the way a dog can be when it jumps all over you and scratches you with its pawnails. However, when Alpha Dog pushes the pace, there is nothing oblivious about it. It's psychological warfare. You know this because last week Alpha Dog was happy to run in the back of the pack, as he'd just had a good race. With nothing to prove, he was even lollygagging a bit back there just to prove that he had nothing to prove. But last weekend Alpha Dog had a bad race. So on today's easy 10 miler he will be looking to re-establish his perceived lack of dominance.
While runs with the half-stepper usually end up progressive, you know Alpha Dog is gonna do his Alpha thing from the gun. Wait! There was no gun, it's a fucking training run. But right off the bat we're clicking 6:30s and everyone on the run is filled with a rising sense of dread. (Except for Alpha Dog, who is filled with joy at the fact that everyone else is feeling dread.) Where do we go from here? 6 flats? 5:30s?
The only way to deal with the Alpha Dog is either a) just let him drop you or b) beat the Alpha Dog at his own game. Of course, I invariably opt for b) because it's at these moments that the psychologically weak Alpha Dog is psychologically weakest. You want 6:30s? I'll give you 6:15s! Want to hammer the hills? Me too! This is fun in a sick way! Fuck you!
6. Chick-ogler. Yes, one of the great pleasures of being a runner is the scenery. Maybe it's the cannabinoids, but running seems to make me more attentive to the fairer members of the human race. So, thank you for drawing my attention if it happens to be wandering. A little sexual innuendo is a key part of running-humor. Yes, we love to run hard (har-har). But there is a line between goofy locker-room humor and creepy stalker-behavior. Not only did you draw that line. You stepped over it. Again. And again. We're not laughing at your jokes, dude. We're laughing because you're making us nervous. Yeah, I know that running loosens up the filter, but could you tighten it back up a bit? How about them Titans?
* * *
If you recognize yourself in one of these categories, don't worry. I'll still run with you, if you want. Plus, every runner who's been a runner has a little of each of these in their psyche. As the great Socrates once said, "Self-knowledge is a bitch."
Oh, and if you readers have anything to add about other annoying runner-habits, I hear there's a comments section below.