By Jordan Jefferson
Ask most people what they think of when they imagine a training run, and they conjure up an image of a lonely figure beating the pavement, a grim expression on his bored and tired face.
It doesn't have to be that way. The solution? Find a running buddy to train with. Experts agree that training with a partner in almost any sport increases your drive to succeed, your performance level and your enjoyment of the sport. Plus, when you run with a partner you're much less likely to skip a workout, which can mean the difference between meeting your performance goals and sinking into the sofa cushions.
This is especially true of potentially monotonous endurance activities like running and cycling.
What to Look for in a Running Partner
The most important thing to look for in a running partner is a similar skill level and training goals. Be honest with yourself about your own goals and performance level. If you can maintain a steady eight-minute-mile pace for 10 miles, don't tell a potential running partner you can do a six-minute-mile pace. And if you can only handle five miles, don't agree to go for 10 on your first day out. Wishful thinking won't get you anything except an injury from overtraining, and it will annoy the six-minute-miler who will have to slow down to accommodate you.
You also need to find someone who is in the same training cycle you are. The best way to do this is to pick a race and then find someone else who plans to compete in it. If that's not possible, or if you're not training for a race, search for someone who shares your weekly distance goals, whether it's three 45-minute jogging sessions or 90 fast miles.
Finally, be prepared to change your schedule to accommodate a good training match. Finding someone who shares your skill level, your performance goals, and your time schedule is tough; you may need to agree to get up an hour earlier or push your strength training out an hour in the evenings to accommodate a friend who can push you to train harder, longer and faster.
How to Find a Running Partner
Below are some suggestions on how to find a running partner in your area.
Join Front Runners
The International Front Runners (http://www.frontrunners.org) is an affiliation of gay and lesbian running/walking clubs that have organized in many of larger cities around the world. With chapters in every town from Aarhus to Zurich, there's a good chance that you can find one near you. Front Runners offers both running and walking programs, so it's a great place for beginners, those who are just getting back into shape, or those with injuries. Seriously competitive distance runners probably won't find the standard runs the organization hosts challenging, but it's still a great place to meet potential training buddies and friends.
Sign up for a Race
Many large fundraising organizations offer expert coaching and group running training when you sign up to train with them and raise money for their cause. If you want to train with a large number of gay men, try signing up for the National AIDS Marathon (http://www.aidsmarathon.org), which currently offers races in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. If you don't live in those areas, try the Leukemia Society of America's Team in Training (http://www.teamintraining.org), a highly organized group that trains more than 30,000 athletes each year to compete in marathons, triathlons, and century cycling rides. Many amateur marathoners get their start with one of these organizations.
Put It In Your Profile
The RealJock web site caters to fitness-focused gay men who want to be in the best shape they can be. Since many of these men joined this site to search for others who share their athletic interests, chances are if you add a note to your profile that you're looking for training buddies, you'll soon be inundated with requests to train with you.
Run a Search
Be proactive. Use RealJock's search tools to find guys in your area who are interested in running. (Be sure to check off the interest "running" under sports interests when you run your search.) Then send a message asking to meet for a training run. Remember, if you want to be successful in anything in life, including athletics, you have to take the initiative.
Jordan Jefferson is a freelance writer, triathlete, and marathoner who resides in San Francisco.