Social Running without Compromising Training Needs

Social running ignites or rekindles running passion in nearly all of us. Even the pros (listen to Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein or NCAA steeplechase legend Leah O’Connor tell you all about it). This is no surprise, given universal understanding that most human endeavors are better lived socially.

One thing I’ve noticed, however, while browsing Strava feeds is the tendency to run in a significantly different capacity when doing so with others verses alone. It’s always one of two scenarios. Either the other person is notably slower or faster, resulting in a run that represents a very different workout than what might otherwise have occurred.

I’m guessing you’ve been there. Either you’re holding yourself back so as to enjoy that time with friends or family or you’re blasting your legs to keep up with someone who doesn’t realize their easy pace is cutting furrows in your oxygen supply. Or, potentially even more common, your social experience has both you and your friend(s) so elated (or competitive) that you’re burning rubber in tandem.

And whatever the case, it is likely not the thing that your training needs on that given day to best support your goals. Rather than scrap the whole social scene for the sake of the almighty training plan or abandon your hopes and dreams for some solid relationship building, I’m of the opinion that we can have the best of both. Here’s how I think it can work.

Thoroughly Understand Your Training

I’ll assume you’ve read or heard us discuss (also check this one out) the need to truly understand your own training and how that training will support the achievement of your goals.

If you know where you’re going and how a given week’s training is going to get you there, you can confidently determine what kinds of efforts are necessary for what kinds of reasons. I know that easy runs need to be easy. That’s important. I also know that longer runs need to be long. Faster runs need to be fast. Those are the obvious cues, but there’s more sophistication than that, too. If it’s a hard effort day, what kind of hard effort is it, and what other ways can that kind of goal be achieved? 

I’ve said this before (see above podcast links) and will continue saying it: there is no one path to success in distance running, both on a global and minute level. If I need a tempo type effort for some threshold work, I’ve got a lot of options for workout variations that can accomplish that. Some might be more efficient than others, true, but most of the time, the differences are slight.

When I understand my options, I understand that I can, in fact, make choices about what I’m doing and how and when I’m doing it.

Be Intentional

This one kills me. The number of times 9pm hits and a friend’s texts me with, “Want to run 8 miles at 6am tomorrow?” Okay. That’s actually not super common. I have one or two friends who do that. Maybe just one. (Disclaimer: ANDI IS THIS FRIEND! She feels very comfortable with her running friends and often has positive results by reaching out.)

The thing that always gets me, though, is that I probably could have predicted that text. Instead of letting my default introversion dissuade me from reaching out, I should have sent a message on Wednesday asking about Saturday running.

Here’s what I do instead:

  • Look at my week’s training needs.
  • Consider who I might run with for a given run based on the efforts, likely paces, and other specifics.
  • Reach out to those individuals days in advance.
  • Communicate my intention with the run (effort, pace, workout type).
  • Alternatively, do the same as above but with club run schedules.

At that point, if I need to make any changes (because a friend says, “I’d love to do that, but can you go on Wednesday instead of Friday?”), I switch some days, runs, or workouts around to fit the new schedule.

Then I’ve got the same solid week of training that I had before but with a couple social runs built in.

Be Transparent

One final concern is the awkward conversation (that most of us just avoid) where you have to tell me that you can’t run as fast or slow as we usually do because of your training needs. Part of the reason the too slow or too fast run tends to happen is because so few of us are willing to communicate that need for fear of the awkwardness.

Really, though, who among us would balk if a friend said, “Hey, can we run more like 9-minute pace instead of 8 today?”

The real concern is that in most cases, someone is always left compromising. I propose that we banish the compromise by simply being more transparent with such things. If you need to run 8 miles at close to 10-minute pace, communicate that ahead of time along with asking what your friend needs for that run. 

Then remember the first point I made above: understand your training well enough to be able to say, “Oh, you were hoping for 9-minute pace? I can just swap out my plan for Thursday’s run, then.”

Your result is a social run experience that doesn’t leave you either wondering whether you were “fast enough” for your friend or complaining to your cat that you ran too hard on your easy runs again this week.

Enjoy Social Running Well

Beneath the surface is the obvious fact that you probably aren’t going to be doing what I just outlined every week. It would be quite exhausting, and there’s something to be said about needing to keep to a routine when possible.

You will, I believe, find it empowering, as I myself have during my career, to be able to enjoy runs with enjoyable company without any underlying worry. As we so often say, if we are to do a thing, let us do it well!


And on that note, we recently posted a big list of West Michigan running groups (and huge thanks to so many who brought our attention to ones we missed – we knew we missed many, so we are glad to be able to amend where possible). If you’re finding yourself lonely during your trial of miles, check out that list and find a run happening near you. Most are glad to accept drop-ins for any run/workout!

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