You and your friend have been training for this 10k for months. You’ve done your speed sessions together. You’ve shared the private details of your life with each other on numerous long runs. Maybe you’ve even covered for the other while one of you hid behind a bush to pee. But have you discussed your race day strategy? Are there unstated expectations that you’ll stick together? Will one of you hold it against the other if left behind?
This is often a situation that female runners face more than their male counterparts. Due to the way they are socialized, most girls are taught to maintain an even playing field—to prioritize connecting over competition and intimacy over independence. This sort of conditioning can conflict with racing.
If one of you feels slowed down by the other, are you in mutual agreement that the one feeling good should go ahead? This may seem like a no-brainer but some people express resentment when left behind. Others feel guilty for leaving behind a friend and so hesitate in doing so.
Sports psychologist and coach, Pamela Landry, says, “Many females have been taught that feeling guilty about something shows that you care about it. The underlying implication behind this logic is that in order to be a ‘good friend’ you must show that you care by feeling guilty and then prove it by conforming to the perceived needs of those around you.”
“No judgment, just execution,” is a verbal self-cue that Landry teaches her athletes to use to help them remain objective during competition. “The goal here,” says Landry, “is to teach the athlete that being the better performer does not make you the lesser person.” Whether you are a female racing with another female friend or a male racing with a female (maybe your spouse or girlfriend), consider the following tips before the next time you toe the line:
- Before your race, decide with your friend if you plan to run your own races or stick together. Discuss under what circumstances it will be ok to “leave the other behind.” Consider agreeing on a pace; if one of you can’t stick to it, it sets an objective measurement to allow the other to move on.
- Share the “No judgment, just execution,” cue with your friend should you decide to run your own races. Then you are both agreeing that your race performances have no reflection on your friendship and vice versa.
- Before the race, agree to not apologize after the race for either leaving the other behind or not being able to keep up with the other. In a race, this is not something you should feel you need to regret. A runner friend of mine and I agreed that every time we bump into each other (accidentally) to say “thank you,” not, “I’m sorry.” Instead of seeing it as an injurious blow, we see it as a connecting nudge.
- Set a post finish meeting place. This way you can easily find each other should you decide to split in the middle of the race. Then you aren’t trying to sort out this logistical detail in the midst of a hard effort.
Participating in a race with a friend or family member can be bonding experience. However, to keep it a positive experience, it’s important to discuss race plans and not rely on unstated expectations or assumptions.
What, if any, rules have you set ahead of races with your friends or family members? Tell us in the comments below!
Amanda McCracken is a freelance writer, triathlon coach, and competitive athlete. She studied sociolinguistics in relationship to athletics as part of her graduate research. www.amandajmccracken.com