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Running Buddies

Why running partners help make us better runners

by Stephanie Miller

Photo courtesy of Wright Creative, Inc.

In honor of Valentine’s Day this year, I want to talk about that special someone in your life: Your running partner.

When you find the right running partner, you have a friend for life. They are the ones who run with you on mornings when you’d rather be sleeping, who push you when it’s race time; the ones who solve your life problems in six miles or less. They’re the ones who make you laugh out loud while you’re sucking for air, and help make the miles fly by almost effortlessly.

I asked some long-time running buddies why they love to run together and how it has benefitted them both in life and in running. Here’s what I found out.

Kimzey Ellis & Jennifer Black

When did you know you found a good running partner?

(K) When we went on our first long run together and the miles passed by in a flash! Also, when we did the Fontandando 50k relay together with another friend from the track, Tatiana. We didn’t know each other all that well at that point but we had such a fun girl’s weekend.

(J) When we discovered how much we had in common outside of running. We’re about the same age, have similar jobs, and have had a lot of similar personal and life experiences that we quickly bonded over.

What kind of things do you talk about while running?

(K) We’ve gone through similar life changes in the past few years, so we’ve talked each other through those things. Aside from that we talk about politics, TV shows we both watch, suggest favorite podcast episodes, make plans for races coming up, deciding where we should brunch after our run…

(J) Everything and anything. It’s kind of like therapy where you vent, reflect, bond over and solve life’s challenges over an hour or more period of time.

How does having a running partner motivate you?

(K) Every time it’s a cold day I text Jen to see if she’ going to the track workout and she always says yes! I used to be such a baby about running in bad weather and I would skip cold or rainy workouts and run on the treadmill instead. We have run together in virtually every imaginable condition. I never would have done this before we became running buddies.

(J) We are both pretty dedicated to our training but there is always going to be days where the weather is bad, you don’t feel great, or you just don’t feel like running and your running partner gets you out there and pushes you to keep going.

Give an example how your partner has pushed you.

(K) So many times! Most recently at the Charleston Marathon. We helped remind each other to go slow at the beginning when things felt too easy, and kept each other encouraged in the second half when  the pace didn’t feel so easy anymore. By the end of the race I knew if I just tried to keep her in sight, I’d beat my goal time, and it worked! Wouldn’t have been able to get through the training or race day without her!
Also, at the Blue Ridge Relay, my last leg started at about 3AM. I was so tired , and whiny and kept saying “I hate this!”  She stayed positive the whole time and motivated me to finish up my last leg and have fun doing it!

(J) In the past year, I have gotten faster and my times have improved. I give her a lot of the credit for pushing me just the right amount and keeping me motivated. I think we’ve both become stronger and smarter runners with racing since we started training together.

Why do you think running forms strong relationships? 

(K) Long easy runs are such a good time to vent about the stresses of life and there’s a lot of time to talk and learn a lot about each other. It also helps to have a friend to suffer with through the hard workouts and celebrate with after!

(J) Conversation flows more freely and easily and your discussions have more depth when you are running with someone. Over time, it’s inevitable that you and your running partner start to become each other’s therapist with regards to life challenges. Additionally, working together with someone during a longer run or harder workout gives you a sense of shared accomplishment that brings you closer.

Do you get jealous when your running partner runs without you?

(K) That wouldn’t happen, haha! Jen is one of the most inclusive people I know which is a wonderful personality trait! We have introduced each other to each other’s runner and non-runner friends and we always have a great time whether it’s just the two of us on a long run or we are hanging with a group.

(J) This rarely happens because we always invite each other to run!

Do you hang out outside of running?

(K) Yes all the time! Usually a run followed by a meal at a delicious restaurant.

(J) We hang out a lot outside of running. We like to go to brunch, local breweries, and enjoy all the outdoor activities Asheville has to offer.

Cristyn Olenick & Kurt Wilson 

When did you know you found a good running partner? 

(K) I took Cristyn and her dog, Paisley, out to Mills River for what I thought would be an easy 5-6 mile run.  She took off at sub 6 pace and I chased her for about 11-12 miles. I knew then I had found a great running partner.  

(C) I was so nervous on that run and went out way too fast. We had a super fun time together that day, I remember not wanting it to end.

What do you talk about when you’re running?

(K) Everything, from whether I took the compost out to making plans for our wedding.  Running gives us the opportunity to hash out the issues of the week and keep on the same page.

(C) Oh poor Kurt, I just talk and talk and talk. Kurt maybe hears 50% but nods the whole time. I am a super emotional runner, if I am having a bad day or feeling overwhelmed our runs can get pretty intense, which is only funny because Kurt is the opposite and he takes it all in stride. 

How does a running partner keep you motivated?

(K) It’s super motivating to train together for the same goal races.  I get so excited seeing her have a great race. 

(C) I am really glad I have someone to talk to about running. Kurt does a great job getting on anybody’s level and making them feel really good about wherever they are right then.

Does having a partner make you a better runner?

(K) She definitely makes me a better runner, having that extra push to get out the door has helped me be way more consistent.

(C) YES. If we are striving for a good time at the same race it feels so good to be going for a goal together, and then sharing the (separate but together) wins of training hard and then having a great race. The same goes for a bad race, only your partner knows how hard you worked and what challenges you faced, so if it really goes downhill they can empathize because they watched the whole movie.

Give an example of how your partner pushed you.

(K) I was having a really tough race at the Leadville 100,  Cristyn ran with me for the last 20 miles (though she may not call it running).  I wouldn’t have made it without her.

(C)  That’s funny. If Kurt is overtly “pushing me,” I will overtly “resist”. I think it’s a relationship thing. But I remember one time at the Naturalist, I was having a terrible time and finally finished the big climbs, I was struggling so badly and had less than a ¼ mile push to the finish. I came around the bend and saw Kurt standing there cheering me on. When I saw him my legs locked up and I cried like a baby and could barely continue. Like my body thought I had finally made it home.

Why does running build such strong bonds?

(K) Going through the trials and triumphs of training and racing together forms strong bonds that carry over to working through many life challenges.  I know our relationship is stronger because we run together.

(C) Because you suffer together. Every runner knows how hard it hurts sometimes. You can see it when Norm gives the workout on Tuesday nights, how many people make eye contact and go, “Oooh man,” or “Are you kidding me?” And then run the workout together with high fives at the end. Those shared moments create relationships and lasting bonds.

Do you get jealous when your running partner runs with someone else?

(K) I definitely don’t get jealous when she runs with someone else. I love hearing stories about great runs and new friends she has made.

(C) LOL, Kurt would be such a better runner if he would run with someone else. 

Do you hang out outside of running?

(K) We do everything together, just don’t ask her to fold a fitted sheet!

(C) Yep, yep and yep.


Neil Newberry & Todd Gothenberg

When did you know you found a good running partner?

(N) Todd’s positive outlook on life, encouraging ways and relentless spirit.

(T) We had great conversation, similar pace, and he’s an encouraging dude.

How did the two of you meet?

(T) We met at the Maggot track workouts a couple of years ago. We were both pretty close in pace and quickly became good friends. Running together ended up being a great bonding time.

(N) It was April 2017 and we enjoyed each other‘s company and we are about the same speed. We’ve talked about pretty much everything once we build up some time and trust, which didn’t take long.  

What do you talk about when you run?

(N) We discussed our faith, families, jobs, political issues, injuries, favorite runs, and of course, food. We have a lot in common, our political views differ, but it just makes the relationship richer to have some differences that are respected.

(T) Everything. Life. When we started running together regularly, it was during a really difficult time in Neil’s life. I ended up doing lots of listening.

How does having a running partner motivate you?

(N) Having a running partner is fantastic! Especially if the partner is a machine and never quits like Todd. You know they’re going to be there, they’re going to show up and not quit. They are going to push you and it makes you want to do the same.

(T) Nobody can motivate anyone else. Motivation is an inside job. Having said that, we can inspire one another. Neil inspires me to be a better version of myself. There are times when I love going for a long solo run as I find the solitude therapeutic, but generally, I enjoy having company on a run.

Give an example on how your running partner pushed you through something difficult.

(T) I think in this case, it was me pulling Neil throughs something difficult: The end of his marriage.

(N) Todd helped carry me through my life transition stage and was always there, 24-7.

How does running form strong bonds?

(T) Life is hard, relationships can be hard at times. Running is hard. Runners can do hard. We don’t naturally give up or give in when it gets tough, instead we dig deeper. The same holds true for relationships and life: When it gets hard, you don’t walk away, you stay and you get through it together and, just like running, you come out the other side stronger for not giving up.

(N) I think running partners and dedicated runners in general tend to be people who can appreciate the basic goodness in other people, because they push past the pain. They know it’s there, they live with it, but decide to move forward anyway. That is essential in life and relationships – no one is perfect, no job is perfect, no family is perfect…I am happily amazed at the quality of people who are runners that I meet. I am so grateful for my running partners and friends that I have made through this gift of running! 

Do you get jealous when your running partner runs with someone else?

(T) Nope. Neil knows I run with my  girlfriend Antje and he’s obviously cool with it.

(N) No way! Share the love of running!

Do you hang outside of running?

(T) Yes, we get together regularly. Neil has become my best friend in the area.

Life is hard, relationships can be hard at times. Running is hard. Runners can do hard. We don’t naturally give up or give in when it gets tough, instead we dig deeper. The same holds true for relationships and life: When it gets hard, you don’t walk away, you stay and you get through it together and, just like running, you come out the other side stronger for not giving up. ~ Todd Gothberg

Stephanie Miller & Marissa Jamison 

When did you know you found a good running partner?

(M) We had a blast traveling together to a race — so much laughter all weekend. I knew on that road trip that we had one of those rare friendship bonds that seem so much harder to come by as you get older. After that race, we started weekly long runs together and with her encouragement, I started joining her for track workouts with Jus’ Running. Our pace was right on par from the beginning, so it made running together easy and seamless.

(S) I knew I found a good running partner when we started running at Bent Creek together. Even when I insisted on meeting early, Marissa always said yes. We enjoyed each other’s company and had the same pace, and I really enjoyed our long runs together. We could run for miles and the time would pass quickly.

 What do you talk about when you run?

(M) What DON’T we talk about while running? All the things we’re going to eat post-run for breakfast, dating/marriage, family, chocolate covered marshmallows, advice on decisions, frustrations, work, embarrassing moments, the beer we’re going to have at the end of the track workout, whether or not we should complete the track workout (yes, we usually do Norm!). I also love that silence isn’t awkward when running. I love talking, but it isn’t necessary for long climbs or if you’re simply not feeling it at the moment.

(S) Romantic interests, races coming up, why our bodies hurt, why we should see a physical therapist, how good life is, and then sometimes one of us takes a good tumble and we talk about that. Marissa now always brings a first aid kit when we run.

How your running partner pushed you?

(M) Every early Sunday morning run (especially in winter!) is difficult for this night owl! Steph will actually pick me up at my house and drive me to the trailhead and about halfway through our run, I am grateful that she made me start my day earlier than I would naturally choose!  Steph encouraged me to join her for weekly track workouts, which was a game changer and pushes me in a way I never would on my own.

(S) Just knowing my running buddy will be at the track workouts pushes me to show up, no matter what the weather is or how tired I’m feeling. During races she likes to go fast, so I just try to keep her in my sight. I made my best time during a half marathon because she kept such a strong pace. I would not have done that on my own.

Why do you think running forms strong bonds?

(M) I think you get comfortable with people and learn about their character pretty quickly when you run with them. Your face gets blotchy, you smell bad and don’t look so attractive — but there’s no judgment and they love you anyways. Pretenses break down. You pee in forests together, you fall, and you see unfortunate things with snot and spit. You loosen up when endorphins flow and you end up talking about strange things that just pop into your mind while running, topics that might not come up in everyday conversation.

(S) When you run with someone, you have their undivided attention. There are no phones to distract you, no other responsibilities to take you away from the present. It’s just you, your running partner, and the run ahead of you. You can talk about all kinds of things, and when I run I think more clearly, so I’m sure I give great advice (haha).

Do you get jealous when your running partner runs without you?

(M) Sunday mornings are our days! Haha, we run with other people too, but we tend to invite one another if it’s one of our regular running days.

(S) Yes I totally get jealous. “Who you’d run with? Where did you go? Was it any good? Can we go there next time? Are you sore?” I know I need to be more open minded. I’m working on it.

Do you hang out outside of running?

(M) We often go out together for drinks, to see music, make travel plans together, and check out new places or events in Asheville. We workout at the same gym and run in that same circle of friends from the gym too.

(S) We usually go out for drinks with friends, see a concert or do hilarious photo shoots.