There are a number of reasons why scuba divers tend to buddy-up rather than dive alone. Aside from it being safer and more fun, there’s something else, and it’s not an easy thing to define. It’s to do with what happens whenever humans gather together: it’s a solidification, a fortification, a reinforcement of why they’re there and what they’re doing. When people group together there is an increased sense of purpose and whatever it is they’re doing – scuba diving, nightclubbing or political campaigning – is justified.
When I scuba dived, having a buddy alongside me made me braver, surer of what I was doing; we shared a common purpose. Buddying up can silence the small insecurities or doubts we have about whether we’re doing things right, whether we should be doing those things at all. When we’re in a group we’re less likely to spend time questioning and more time doing.
Apply this to running. Running is a simple activity, the simplest sport there is. And so the ease of running alone works perfectly – I go when I’m ready, I run as fast and as far as suits me, it’s a celebration of simplicity, a wonderful antidote to the complications of normal daily life.
But here’s the thing. Training alone all the time misses something, something that is a vital precursor to improvement. And that thing is the same thing that made me a surer scuba diver with my buddy than alone. Running with a buddy, or a few, can add an extra dimension… we’re pack animals and it shows. Throw a few runners together and you can bet most of them will work harder and go faster than if they were training alone. Training in a pack triggers the competitive element that is present in every runner. Show me a runner who’s not competitive and I’ll show you an accident claims salesman with a good soul.
Competition is a massive driver. Solidarity is a massive driver. You can’t have either alone. Both can empower even the meekest of runners to push themselves harder than they knew they could.
‘We’re out training and we approach the foot of a hill together. There’s an unspoken challenge between us… who leads, who relents?’
I have a training partner and we run together several times a week. When we run alongside each other, when she’s in the periphery of my vision, when I hear her heavy breathing in sync with my own, there is a bond. If she edges ahead I find myself responding. If she slows momentarily I take my cue and ease past her. We approach the foot of a hill together and there is an unspoken challenge between us… who leads, who relents?
We don’t have to talk to each other; we know how the other’s feeling by the way they’re running. I go into long reveries and forget her existence then turn around and she’s right by me. She’s never yet turned down a run, never cancelled, never taken a short cut home. She’s a brilliant motivator. If I’m feeling low while we’re out running, it’s never long before she does something that makes me laugh, like trip over her own feet, or flee from a herd of cows, or get ridiculously excited about running fast down a steep hill.
She’s Lola, my border collie, and we make a great team.