What Makes A Great Training Partner?

My European training partner, Ashley Higginson.

from The Official Blog of Kyle Merber


I have trained by myself before, and I can do it–but I don’t like it. You will learn a lot of lessons when you step out on the track by yourself, with the watch as your only means of being kept honest. Having a coach there to scream out splits, and provide encouragement is a boost of motivation in itself. Though having a few good training partners is even better. There’s no greater impetus than pride, and the fear of embarrassment from being dropped sometimes is the best way to get the most out of yourself.


There are a few benefits to being able to complete a session solo. Mainly is the process of developing some mental fortitude that will [hopefully] carry over onto race day. Additionally, you are in complete control of the workout and can determine just how much effort should be put forth based off how you are feeling. For the most part the gains of having company day in and day out offset the potential downsides. That is assuming you have teammates who are worth having around.

To shed some lights on some of the “Do Nots” while training with others I have assembled a list of the characteristics that make great teammates below:

This is my prettiest training partner, Patricia. I like letting her lead and looking at her butt. (Photo: Justin Britton)

This is my prettiest training partner, Patricia. I like letting her lead to look at her butt. (PC: Justin Britton)

Positivity– There will naturally be ups and down in training and racing through the years. Sometimes things may suck for a long period of time, and this is when you need teammates more than ever. They’re there to talk you through it, and to be your therapist. I have spilled my guts out to teammates on 10-mile runs, and have then reciprocated by cleaning up their messy guts when they eventually need it. A good teammate will put things in perspective, offer up some ideas, and find a reason to look forward. You need someone who will not only listen, but also hold your hair back and tell you that everything is OK. Now that is a teammate that you want to hold on to.


Pacing- We have watches on, and the track is marked out every 100m. Don’t try and tell me that you ran 8 seconds too fast by accident. YOU KNEW WHAT YOU WERE DOING! It’s ok to go a bit quicker than pace if it is progressing naturally each rep and everyone is feeling good. But don’t go to the front of the line and start hammering the second rep when we still have eight to go. You’ll get called out passive-aggressively at first, but it won’t be so subtle the second time around. And if you do go out too fast, and want to go back out on pace, don’t go from a sprint to hitting the breaks–just get on pace.

This is Ford Palmer. He wasn't that good for a while, and then got good so I have to explain things to him regularly. (Photo: Foon Fu)

This is Ford Palmer. He wasn’t that good for a while, but then got good so I have to explain things to him regularly. (Photo: Foon Fu)

Communication– Inevitably someone will feel great one day, and others may be feeling fatigued. Say it! You’re allowed to go ahead, but don’t get up on someone’s shoulder to one step when they’re already hitting a fair pace. Especially on easy days, everyone needs to do what his or her individual body needs. Sometimes that means speaking up and saying, ‘Go ahead, I am going to slow it down.’ And other times that means taking the last rep and verbalizing that you may run X seconds faster than prescribed. Getting upset at someone for doing what they think is best for their needs is unreasonable, as long as it does not negatively impact your workout.


Consistency- When you’re in a training group, you have people that are counting on you to show up [especially if you’re on a XC team]. That means you can’t stand them up for runs because they need to know that you’ll be there. And showing up extends beyond just having a physical presence, but to also be taking care of your body so you can game when it’s game time. If you are dropping out of workouts weekly, then you’re not much of a training partner. The best training partners are the healthy ones who always give you a back to stare at when it’s your turn to block the wind.

This is my friend Riley Masters. We don't train together full-time, but when we do it's fun minus his one stepping. (Photo: Aric Van halen)

This is my friend Riley Masters. I like him, but he one steps. (Photo: Aric Van Halen)

Fun- Finally, this is a sport! Even if it’s my job now, the essence of it comes down to doing it for the enjoyment of it all. I don’t want each run to be a chore. There is a lot of work to do, but if it’s a drag doing it then it’ll actually feel like work. I’d rather joke on a warm up, tell stories mid-long run, and share a post-run meal with my friends. Chasing smaller numbers is a long process, why make it tedious too?


Confidence- More likely than not, your training partner probably has the same coach. If you ever question our coach’s plan in our conversations, then we will no longer be talking about running together ever again. There are a million ways to train, and perhaps the biggest factor is finding a reason to believe in what you are doing. If you have an issue with the workload then take it up privately with the coach. Not with me on a recovery day, and not at practice when we are stepping on the line to workout. Things that are encouraged: Crossing the finish line at the end of practice and high-fiving your teammates and saying things like, ‘We are awesome!’…‘You look so skinny!’…’This year state is ours!’ That kind of stuff builds confidence.

This is Donn taking a selfie with the NJ*NY squad after qualifying for Beijing.

This is Donn taking a selfie with the NJ*NY squad after qualifying for Beijing. (Photo: Donn Cabral)

That’s my list. Everyone has their own values that they look for in others, but if we are to run hours a week together, than you better do all this and more. I am lucky enough to have some amazing training partners with the New Jersey*New York Track Club. And I have to give a shout out to one of the best training partners I have, Donn Cabral, who is representing the United States at the World Championships (starting Saturday)!


Next up for me is the Hoka One One Long Island Mile on Wednesday, September 9th. I’ll continue to hype this event until it comes, but if you want to hear more about it check out this interview I did with NY Milesplit (http://ny.milesplit.com/articles/160100-kyle-merbers-hoka-one-one-long-island-mile-looks-to-bring-sub-4-back-to-long-island). And if you are interested in running yourself, you can sign up at LongIslandMile.com!

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