Running Together: How to Train + Race with Family and Friends

How about running together?

You know...you hit the trail, go for a run, or sign up for a race with family and friends.

Sounds like fun, right? But how do you juggle...

  • Schedules
  • Family
  • Work
  • Races
  • And different ability levels to make running together even work?
If you’ve ever ran into these logistical roadblocks trying to figure out how to make running together work, you’re not alone.

But running together is totally possible. It just might not look the way you imagined it would. 

Here’s how one couple and a group of friends made running together work to take on the Odyssey Trail Running Rampage.

Running together: How to make it work with your partner

“Do you ever think to yourself, ‘why am I doing this?’” 

My husband, Eric, asked me this after returning home from a trail run last month.

“Like, my ‘why’? My deep reason for running?” I replied.

“No,” he laughed.

“Oh, like ‘why on earth am I running right now, I could be doing something easier, this is ridiculous?’”

“Yea.”

“No,” I answered. We laughed. 

“But I figured out my personal ‘why,’” he continued. 

“It’s you. I run for you. If you weren’t a runner, I probably wouldn’t be running.” 

Well, that got me all warm and fuzzy inside. 
Sometimes Eric Harder and Brynn Cunningham spend time running together. But more often than not, they run solo, while the other manages kids at home...and it works.

Meet Eric "The Runner"

The truth is, Eric has been a runner since his pre-teen years, just like me.

His mom tells the story of Eric as a 10-year-old running home from their favorite restaurant in Burlington, Wisconsin, after eating a hamburger and fries. 

He found his love of running in soccer and tennis rather than track or cross country.

When I met Eric in our mid-20s, he was still an avid runner. 

He moved to South Carolina to become a raft guide on the Chattooga River, and I moved there to become a white white rafting photographer. 

He learned to white water kayak, and I did, too.

Often, we ran our kayaking shuttle together after kayaking Sections III or IV of the Chattooga River. 

Back then, running together was easy.

Then we became parents

Running together got trickier once we had kids. 

I began running more, he began running less. 

  • I was the stay-at-home-mom who either ran with our first son in the off-road jogging stroller while Eric was at work or ran out the door for a break when he returned from work. 
  • He was the breadwinner, working all day and usually too tired to run at night.

But we have tried running together plenty of times...

  • Honeymoon run. For our honeymoon, I ran the Pittsburgh marathon, and he ran the half.
  • Mount Summit Challenge. We ran one Mount Summit Challenge together, though not side-by-side, since we had our sons, and I’ve run the race five times. 
  • Half marathon. We ran one trail half marathon together, again, not side-by-side, and I’ve run… innumerable trail races. 

Sometimes it feels a bit one-sided, how much I run, and how little he does these days. 

I’ve mentioned the imbalance to him. He assures me it is completely fine, that we do not have to do everything evenly, the same. Good point, I agree and still encourage him to keep running. 

And life goes on.

Odyssey Trail Running Rampage: The Tranfser

I was signed up to run the Odyssey Trail Running Rampage full marathon, set to take place on Sept. 18, in Douthat State Park, Virginia. 

My best friend Kathryn and I found the race, which had several distance options, and signed up together in April. It was a perfect meet-in-the-middle place between our two homes, with her living in Asheville, N.C., and I in southwestern Pennsylvania.

But I had a running setback that would make running a marathon out of the question.

So I turned to Eric with a proposal:

“If I were to transfer my marathon bib to you, would you want to transfer to the half marathon and run the race instead of me? Kathryn is running the half - you could run together. And Emily is running, too.” 

Kathryn is a mutual friend who worked on the Chattooga River with us and Emily another mutual friend who lives in Asheville. 

Without hesitation, he said yes.

The man doesn’t often say no. He is full of love, loyalty and an I-would-do-anything-for-you spirit. 
With some last-minute changes, Eric Harder agreed to run the Odyssey Trail Running Rampage with friends.

Training: No fancy-running watch required

“Do you want to use one of my watches?” I asked Eric as he got ready for an eight-mile trail run.

“Nah, I’m good.” 

“Here... my old Garmin fenix 5 and Garmin 220… are you sure you don't want to use one?”  I pressed, handing him the watches. 

“Nope.”

OK, I got the picture.

So I suggested an eight-mile route with plenty of elevation to prepare him for the Odyssey half, touting about 2,300 feet of gain. 

He set off.

That week he ran once more plus sprinted around with our oldest son’s soccer team as he coached. 

The next weekend he ran about nine miles with plenty of hills plus another one-hour soccer practice with the six-to-eight-year-old league. 

He ran a couple more times here and there since the day he decided to race.

One week before the race...

“Have you done enough running?” I asked Eric. “Maybe it would be good to fit in another two or three miles.”

He assured me he had done enough. 

He was ready.

I believed him. 

I called Kathryn to tell her I would not be racing, that even the shortest six-mile loop was not feasible, so Eric would be running instead. She was having a foot/shin issue and was unsure about the half marathon. 

Race Eve

Eric, our sons, Emily, her daughter and partner, and Kathryn and I were all staying two nights at an Airbnb 20 minutes from Douthat State Park. 

I took a 10-mile road bike ride before the Asheville crew arrived, and then Eric and I prepared a hearty pre-race dinner. 

We did some foam rolling, I gave Kathryn calf sleeves for her shin, and we went to bed late. 

Race Day

The Odyssey Trail Running Rampage offers four race distances:

  • The Ultramarathon, at 40-plus miles, consisting of three loops of the half marathon course 
  • The Full Maraton, at 26.8 miles, consisting of two loops of the half marathon course
  • The Half Marathon, at 13.4 miles, one loop
  • Six miles

Eric and Emily’s half marathon began at 10 a.m.

Kathryn transferred to the six-mile race at check-in and began racing at 11:30 a.m. 

It was sunny and in the low 80s. 

Emily’s partner, Ralf, and I, plus the kids, made our way to the start/finish area to watch our loved ones roll in. 

Running together: Kathryn's finish

First came Kathryn, flying down the long path toward the finish line, looking not like someone with a foot/shin niggle, in perfect form. 
Kathryn Meinart approaches the finish line for the six-mile Odyssey trail race in Douthat State Park, VA. (Photo/author)
She won second overall woman and runner, “chicking all the dudes,” in under an hour, with an unofficial time of 58:01.
Kathryn Meinart crosses the finish line to win second overall outright. (Photo/author)
Kathryn celebrates her race, which was a personal best for the distance. (Photo/author)
Kathryn (far right) receives a hat for her six-mile second place win.

Running together: Emily's finish

Next came Emily. Going into the race, she had some hamstring tightness. Her longest training run was about eight miles, as her summer consisted mostly of long bike rides. 

Nonetheless, she came flying down the trail toward the finish with a fluid, energetic stride and big smile. 
Emily Richter cruises toward the finish line of the Odyssey trail half marathon. (Photo/author)
Many runners were crossing around the same time as Emily. 

Some 40-milers and marathoners were coming into the transition area.

Some were finishing the six-mile race, and others the half. 

None of us, including Emily, were sure of where she placed but knew it was in the top 10.
Emily Richter nears the finish of the half marathon. (Photo/author)
She crossed in an unofficial time of 2:34. An hour or two later, as the awards ceremony was taking place, we were all surprised to learn she had won second overall female.
Emily (far right) receives a hat for her half marathon second place win.

Running together: Eric's finish

Next came Eric, looking fresh and smooth, sweaty but ready for more miles.
Eric Harder runs the last stretch of the Odyssey half marathon. (Photo/author)

Then I saw it. His bib...

Eric Harder's race bib (#255), reminded Brynn Cunningham of her late father.
Then his time: it was an unofficial 2:50:50, a double dose of race angel magic from the father-in-law he was lucky enough to know for one year before his passing in 2013. 

“That was hard,” he said. “I have more fun running together with you.” 

Again, the warm and fuzzy feelings fluttered in. 

Eric, my runner, and I, his. 

Though we don’t run together, side-by-side, much anymore, we do run for each other, and that’s good enough for me. 

The swag

All finishers received a pint glass. (Photo/author)
Kathryn (left) and Emily in the race shirt, which all runners received. The black running hats were awarded to first, second and third place overall winners.
Do you like running together with family and friends? Tell us about it in the comments.
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Brynn Cunningham 204
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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, backcountry skier, yogi, mom and writer. www.inhaleexhalerun.com

Comments

David Moore Congrats to all three on a great finish! Looks like some serious elevation on that course too..

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