With the Help of a Friend

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With the Help of a Friend

Written by Richard Ferguson, Ph.D. on 05 February 2014.

Ah, the loneliness of the long distance runner. You have probably heard those words before, but do they really ring true for us distance runners? Sure, running is an individual sport. But while some may be on running teams, the teams are not truly interactive in nature as are sports like basketball and soccer. But are runners really “lone wolves” as often portrayed? I would venture to say that runners, in general, are a very social group and it is this social bond which may indeed be the key to higher levels of running success and enjoyment from the sport. 

            Any athlete needs to surround themselves with people who can support their visions and goals for their sport. We all need a support group who can listen, provide emotional help, encouragement and understanding during training, racing and life in general. Running is a demanding sport, both physically and mentally. Hard training stresses the body beyond your comfort level, you train in all types of weather, injuries occur, and some performances make you happy, while others disappoint you deeply. Oh yea, then there are the stresses of daily life, such as work, relationships and finances. If these stressors are not dealt with effectively, running performance and enjoyment can suffer.

            Social support can be an invaluable means to help you through the stressful and challenging times in your running. When you are not performing well, injured, challenged to find adequate time in the day to train, or even feel a bit burned out on running, other people, especially other runners, can provide empathy, encouragement and support. When you have social support your motivation can be lifted and your emotional energy can be increased just from knowing that someone understands and really cares about the way you are feeling.


When you have someone who can just listen to your running concerns, you have a valuable asset to call upon. All too often people are quick to give free advice on solving other people’s problems, without really listening and understanding what the problem is.

By sharing your concerns, frustrations and dreams with close friends you have a sounding board by which to give you reassurance, acceptance and maybe just another view point on how to approach your running concerns in a constructive manner.

            Your emotions will certainly influence your running performance. If you feel down, unenthusiastic, or lethargic, your motivation and energy levels to train and perform will certainly be reduced. When you know someone really cares about how you feel and can give you feedback concerning your running, you may be better able to think more rationally and see that running can actually make you feel better emotionally. When you feel down emotionally it’s always good to know you have someone on your side that can help encourage you and pick you up in down times. Emotional support can come from a spouse, friend, training partner or coach; it really doesn’t matter who they are as long as they understand how you feel and can offer positive support.

            Even though you love to run; running can be hard work at times. Early morning training runs, those sore legged recovery runs, and muscle burning interval workouts are challenging both physically and mentally. It requires a lot of effort to reach your highest level of fitness. Well, sometimes it’s just nice to have someone recognize your hard work and give you a pat on the back for your dedication to your training. Again, just knowing that someone else has some empathy for the effort you are expending can increase your motivation to continue to train hard and can provide you with an emotional lift. Sometimes you really need a reward for the process, not just the product, or in other words, some positive feedback for training, not just racing. It’s nice to recognize runner’s efforts.

            Speaking of effort, there may be some times when you really need, let’s say, a good kick in the gluteus maximus. Maybe you have been a bit slack with your training or haven’t been pushing yourself during your hard runs and races. A good friend or training partner that knows you well won’t be afraid to point these things out to you. In other words people close to you can challenge you to reach your full running potential. Sure, positive reinforcement is great, but there are times when you need to be confronted with your weaknesses and these weaknesses addressed. If someone never pointed out your running weaknesses you may never become aware of them, and therefore, would never work to improve. Sometimes it hurts a little when someone challenges you, but that’s the only way to ever get better. So when someone close to you points out a weakness, don’t get defensive, listen to what they have to say. You trust the people close to you and they can indeed see things in you that you may never see in yourself on a personal basis. Even though it hurts sometimes, a real friend will tell you the truth.

            All of us need to be surrounded by people who can support us in the attainment of our running goals, whether those goals are an Olympic Medal or finishing that first 5K. Look around and you will see that all great athletes have a support group to lift them up during the rough times and pat them on the back things are going well. So whether it is family, friends or coaches surround yourself with people that lift you and can help take your running to levels you never thought possible. With the help of a friend you can be a faster runner and a happier runner!

Richard Ferguson is Chair of the Physical Education, Wellness, and Sport Science Department at Averett University and is an AASP Certified Sport Psychology Consultant. He may be reached via e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   

Read more of Dr. Ferguson articles:

Beating the Winter Blues- http://runohio.com/index.php/features/718-beating-the-winter-blues


Go For It - http://runohio.com/index.php/features/702-go-for-it


Beating Burnout - http://runohio.com/index.php/features/658-beating-burnout


A New Outlook - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/611-a-new-outlook


Expect the Unexpected - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/560-expect-the-unexpected


Pain or Discomfort? - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/529-pain-or-discomfort


Keep Your Eye on the Prize - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/512-keep-your-eye-on-the-prize


Running Free - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/507-running-free


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