The right tribe will make you a better athlete.
It’s widely known that the same stimulus will always yield the same results that is, if you always run the same pace, in the same shoes, on the same course, you’ll eventually stop improving as a runner. You’ll plateau or worse, get into a rut. That’s why so many training plans advocate for mixing things up with speed work, hill repeats, and training tools.
The same is true for your training buddies—though there’s something to be said for a long, quiet ride or a character-building solo run, it’s well-documented that training with others make us step up our game in ways we wouldn’t necessarily do when working out alone. This phenomenon is known in academic-speak as “social facilitation,” or performing better in the presence of others; You probably know it as “throwing down,” “talking crap,” or “I’ll-be-damned-if-I-get-dropped-today.”
To get the most out of the social facilitation effect, you want an arsenal of training buddies, each one designed to bring out the best in you. Like a triathlete carefully selects the right running shoe for the workout or pulls a mountain bike out for a different kind of challenge, so too should training buddies be called upon to play the role they serve best.
Sometimes, you just need a pep talk. The cheerleader knows not only what you need to hear, but how to speak your language. Some athletes get revved up with a speech of the “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” variety; others roll their eyes at such contrived B.S., but they do perk up when they hear there’s beer at the finish line. Your cheerleader knows exactly what will get you going.
Honestly? You can be a bit of a baby sometimes. Quit whining, says The Hardass, and do the work. This training buddy is your go-to person when you need accountability and a swift kick in the rear end. They’re particularly useful for predawn workouts, super-long bike rides, and any workout involving the words “max effort.” You hate them ‘til it’s over—and then you wonder how you’d ever survive without them.
The Struggle Buddy
Shared suffering heightens vulnerability, so it’s likely this training buddy knows more about you than anyone else. There’s something about a trail run in 100-degree heat or an embarrassing bonk on a bike ride that makes people let their guard down—after your Struggle Buddy sees you at your worst, you know they can be trusted. They’re your pal, your comrade, and a Fort Knox of all your secrets.
The Devil’s Advocate
The Devil’s Advocate will save you from yourself. This person is the critical thinker, the question-asker, the one who says “have you considered that maybe—just maybe—this is a bad idea?” They see problems before they arise, whether it’s an impending case of overtraining or the serious flaws in following a fad diet. They’re blunt—not because they’re mean, but because they’re looking out for you. You may not always like what they have to say, but you know you need this voice of reason.
Unlike the Devil’s Advocate, the default response of the Hell-Yes is “That sounds like a horrible idea. What time?” No workout is too crazy, no race too extreme for this friend: Doing a 100×100 swim on her birthday? Count her in. A moonlight trail run? Sure, why not? Signing up for your first Ironman? Let’s do this. Having a friend who is so daring can give you a booster shot to be so bold—when you’re with a Hell-Yes, it’s a lot easier to step outside your comfort zone.
Be persistent in finding your tribe. The people you train with should inspire you, support you, challenge you, and make you an all-around better athlete. You want to surround yourself with the ones who bring out the best in you. The right training buddies push you to step up your game, and with friends like these, you’ll have no problem accepting the challenge.