One of the many great things about running is that it is so versatile – it’s a great sport for people who like to spend time alone, but running with someone else, or a group, is also easy to do if you want to run with a friend, your partner or a club. But some of the questions that often come up are how do you run with someone slower than you and still get an effective workout for yourself, and what do you do when you are slower than your running buddy and want to both have an enjoyable run?
We don’t all run at the same pace as our other half or friends, and there’s always that potential for frustration and/or awkwardness if one of you is having to run much slower or faster than you would like to because you’re keeping someone else company.
Running with someone slower or faster than you is something I have a lot of experience in. Alastair is a much faster runner than I am, so we have come up with many ideas and options for running together as a couple when one of you is a faster / slower runner than the other, which I have summarized below. Hopefully, this advice is useful when it comes to planning your runs with someone else who runs at a different pace to you, so you can find that happy place where you both enjoy your run, get a good workout in, and benefit from each others’ company.
Table of Contents: How to Run With Someone Slower Than You
- Accept that you run at different paces
- Determine your relative pace as a percentage
- 4 Ways to run with someone slower
Be honest with yourself and each other – accept that you run at different speeds
It’s important to be honest with your running partner about how fast (and indeed, far) you want to go on your run together. If you have very different goals and ideas for how far or fast the run needs to be for you to enjoy it then this is a recipe for frustration on one or both sides.
As a faster runner, if you offer to run with someone slower than you, either prepared to accept that fact, enjoy the company, and try to avoid getting annoyed if they can’t keep up or start to flag halfway through your run together, or agree on a plan for your run that will enable you both to get what you want out of your time ‘together’. Alastair found that running long runs at my pace leg to the feeling of an impending injury due to running for so long at an unnatural pace for him.
Equally, as a slower runner, I know it is easy to feel like you’re holding your running partner back if they’re constantly having to check their pace or wait up for you during a run together. This is what used to happen when Alastair and I went out planning to stay together side-by-side for the entirety of our run. It can be frustrating and make you feel guilty (when you shouldn’t).
We once truly messed up both of our races on an ultramarathon as we planned to run it together. I ended up getting prematurely worn out (because I’d been going a little faster than I should have done for such a long race), and he was running uncomfortably slow, which made his legs stiff and had him getting tired from the unnaturally slow speed he had been maintaining to stay with me!
Lesson learned: now we accept that we run at different paces and don’t even try to run races side-by-side.
Why and how to determine how much faster (or slower) your running partner is than you in 3 Easy Steps
It really helped us to work out how much faster Alastair runs than me. Over many years of running with my faster husband, we have this down to a fine-art and know pretty much to within the minute (or for longer runs and races, 5-10 minutes) how long it will take one of us to run a given distance relative to the other – both on-road and trail!
We determined that Alastair will pretty much always run 20% faster than me. He can cover 20% more distance than me in a given time, or run the same distance 20% faster. How did we work this out? Read on for a step-by-step guide to working out how much faster you are than your running partner (or how much slower).
1. Both run the same route for the same period of time
Quite simply, you and your faster (or slower) friend go out and run the same route at what you would both describe as at your own ‘comfortable’ running pace for a given period of time. Run this route separately so you’re truly both running at your own comfortable pace, and not faster or slower than that.
For this purpose, it may be easier to start with a flattish route so that the calculation is not affected by the impact of running up or down hills.
2. Compare the distance you and your faster / slower running partner ran
For the purpose of this exercise, having a GPS watch helps – record your run and at the end, both simply make a note of the distance it recorded for each of you during the run.
A note on GPS running watches:
While you don’t necessarily need a GPS running watch if you are new to running and not at the point of investing in one, it really helps not just for tracking your speed, pace, distance and more during your run, but for the data you can extract and analyze after your run, to track your training and progress over time.
Many new GPS running watches also offer some excellent features including navigation, wrist-based heart rate monitoring, energy and hydration tracking and music streaming, and can offer predictions for when you will finish your run, based on your training time and average pace. The higher-end models of the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro series watches also offer gradient-adjusted pace guidance, and additional features for other sports such as piste maps for popular ski resorts, and golf courses, so you can use the watch for many sports aside from just running. It’s not a surprise to find this running watch at the top of our list of the best GPS watches for trail running!
3. Work out the percentage difference in your running paces
Once you have worked out the difference between the distance you both ran in the given time, work that out as a percentage of the slower runner’s distance. As an example:
- Alastair and I both go out and run for a pre-agreed time period of 45 minutes.
- In that time, Alastair covers 6 miles and I cover 5 miles. Therefore he covered one more mile than I did in that time. 1 mile divided by 5 miles (1/5) as a percentage is 20%.
- This means that Alastair ran that run 20% faster than I did.
We’ve proven this out over probably hundreds of runs of different distances – including trails, which have added factors such as different terrain, elevation gains and losses. Of course, sometimes one of you may have an awesome run and the other may have a bad one, but generally the average gets more reliable the more you run together – so sometimes we may be 18% different and other times 25% different (if I have a really bad run!!) but 20% is about right.
You could also do this calculation by both running a fixed distance and then work out how long it took and compare the time difference, or even just by comparing your respective ‘comfortable’ average pace over a given distance, if you both know that statistic. It should boil down to the same thing, it’s just easier to agree to run a certain ‘time’ because if you do this as an out-and-back then you know that when you’re halfway through the time (in this case, 22 minutes 30 seconds) then you can turn around and finish on time, assuming a similar pace throughout your run.
Ok, math-time over. Once you know roughly how much faster one of you is than the other then you have loads of options for running together when you’re different speeds.
Our 4 Ways to Run With Someone Slower Than You
1. Doing time-based interval training with someone who is faster than you
Interval training is a great way to run at your own speed and not be tied to your running partner, but stay close to each other and see each other frequently during the run. We like to pick a trail, path or Strava segment and use that as the basis for interval training.
Say there is a 0.5 mile Strava segment we want to run. We may both run it one-way, at our fast interval pace. Alastair will naturally get to the end 20% quicker than I do, although I can try and keep up with him for the purpose of speed-training! We can either agree to meet back at the start of the segment when I get back (i.e. he has a longer recovery time, or runs beyond the end of the segment before turning around), or we can keep going at our own paces.
If we choose the latter, then we’ll run past each other frequently for however many reps of the segment we each run. Plenty of High-5 opportunities there. As the slower runner, I also like that if he passes me, I have the opportunity to try and chase him, for an extra piece of motivation – even if I only last a few seconds before he pulls away…
A variation on this interval training workout is to find a hill and plan to do up/down hill repeats instead of just a flat segment. If you take this approach, I suggest deciding if you want to work on your uphill or downhill running, and then use the other direction as your recovery run.
2. Do a ‘Fartlek’ run session together
Fartlek, a funny word meaning ‘speed-play’ just means mixing up your speed over varying distances – so basically like interval training but without a rigid time or distance to cover. You can run Fartlek intervals between park benches, or trees or lamp-posts, for example.
Fartlek training runs are a great way to run with someone slower than you, or faster than you. The way we like to do them when Alastair and I do Fartlek runs together is to set them up so that the faster runner (Alastair) has to come back and meet the slower runner (me) after a given period, which in practice means that he is boomeranging back to me after each of his fast intervals, finishes my fast interval with me, and ultimately covers more distance during the run.
For more on speed training, read this post: Guide to Speed Training for Runners.
3. Plan your running route to accommodate that one of you is a slower runner than the other
Another option for running with someone slower or faster than you is to plan your route around this. What this means for us is that we often either:
- Run an out-and-back route the same duration but cover different distances – just turning around at half-way through our pre-agreed run time
- Plan a route that is similar but with different distances. So I may run a 10 mile loop and Alastair runs a 12 mile loop that is in the same area as mine, but with an extra 2k added on somewhere along the way. We often do this and run in opposite directions, so we see each other around halfway through our runs.
With any of these ways, while we are not together the whole time, we see each other at least once during our run, and finish at a similar time.
If you are not familiar with an area, or want to learn about the trails / paths and popular running routes near you, there are a few different apps you can use to find new trails to run on. For more details, head on over to this post: How to Find Trails Near Me.
Also… How to know where your running companion is relative to you
Many of the newer Garmin running watches have the capability to connect with Garmin’s ‘Livetrack’, which allows friends and family members to track your location live, using the Garmin Connect Mobile app. This is a great backup way of knowing where your running partner is, if they’re taking longer than expected to meet you at a rendezvous point.
4. Plan your run to take place during the faster runner’s recovery run, so you can comfortably run together
If you really want to run together for the duration of your run, then the best way we have found of doing this without one or both of us being frustrated is for Alastair to run with me the day after he has done a long or hard run! That way, I’m fresh and can run at a decent speed, but he’s tired so happier to take it easy and slow things down to keep me company.
I suppose a cynic may say, ‘why don’t you just train more and run quicker so you can keep up with him?’. If that’s you, then thanks for the helpful suggestion however I am happy with the speed at which I run, and if I train to run faster then of course an advantage is that I may be able to keep up a bit more with my husband, but that wouldn’t be my overall motivation for doing so. Plus, as he’s pretty competitive I’m sure he’d also see that as a challenge to get even faster himself – and who can blame him?!
A recovery run is also a good time to run with a friend who is new to running, or who you are giving running coaching and encouragement to. There’s nothing quite like making time fly during a recovery run than focusing your attention and efforts on helping someone else. I ran my fastest-ever 5k while chasing Alastair while he was cruising along on a recovery run and offering me encouragement 🙂
For the faster runner, there are still plenty of training benefits of doing a ‘slow’ or recovery run. In addition, we’ve found that a great way to accelerate our running fitness is to do a ‘run streak’ of several runs on consecutive days. More on running streaks in this post: Benefits of Running Streaks.
I hope these ideas for how to run with someone who is a different speed to you are helpful when you’re planning to run with a faster or slower companion. If you have any other great suggestions for running with a friend who is a different speed to you, then drop us a comment and share all!