During the time that The Jewish Stallion, El Doce, Alain, and I have been training together, The Jewish Stallion achieved PRs in the half marathon and in a half Ironman (his first one, but it still counts). El Doce twice PRed in the half marathon (running five minutes faster the second time) and once in a half Ironman. Alain PRed by ten minutes in the marathon. And I PRed in the half marathon, a half Ironman (my first, too), and the marathon--also by ten minutes. El Doce is only 38, but Alain and I are 42, and The Jewish Stallion is 45. Not many men our age get to continue to improve and set personal records, but we're doing it and we're doing it together.
As Reid Coolsaet, one of Canada's top marathoners, writes in The Globe and Mail (article here):
"Seeing a Kenyan run alone is the exception to the norm. Kenyans run in groups during speed sessions as well as their easy runs. Running with a group can provide that extra push during hard runs and it can help keep the easy runs leisurely with chit chat."
While we did not perform like Kenyans, our group did its best, with the demands of family and work, to train in a group like the Kenyans. One finds motivation to wake up at five o'clock in the morning when he knows his friends will be waiting for him by the windmill or in front of El Doce's house at six o'clock.
It's also easier to run in the snow, or through the wind, or in the pouring rain, or to swim in a cold, washing machine of a lake, if others are sharing your misery--and joking about the conditions--with you.
I ran over 3000 miles while I lived in China (2007-2009), and I ran over 2700 of those miles alone. I didn't think at the time that I had to have running partners. In fact, I romanticized running alone. It gave me time to think, time to listen to entertaining and/or informative podcasts, and running alone, I believed, made me a stronger runner. If I could handle the pain alone, then I could certainly race well when I had competitors around me.
But while I still enjoy running alone once or twice a week, I now understand that I perform best when I train with a group. I do run just a bit harder in a workout if I have someone beside me to help push the pace. And I am less likely to run too hard on an easy run if my goal is to enjoy the company of friends rather than to just get the miles completed. Harder workouts and better rest lead to faster race times.
One of the true cliches about marriage or any romantic relationship is that with a life partner good times are twice as good and bad times are half as bad. Having a shoulder to lean on in times of trouble helps ease suffering, and celebrating a personal achievement with someone else makes that accomplishment just a little sweeter.
The same idea applies to training partners. I have many more triumphs to celebrate because I not only celebrate my own successes, but I also celebrate my partners' successes. And if I fail to reach a goal or I drop out of a race, I have my partners to slap me on the back, remind me that an athlete's memory should be short, and get me training again to help remedy whatever might have gone wrong during the previous race.
It will be difficult to find another group of guys that all achieve so much while training together (and have so many laughs while doing it), but I know now to embrace such a group should I get lucky enough to find another.