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What Makes the Ideal Training Partner?

Having a training buddy who motivates you can be key to unlocking your potential as an athlete—but which traits should you look for in a running (and biking and swimming) mate? We find out...

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In 2021, pro triathlete Skye Moench had a breakthrough season, putting up three sub-8-hour Ironmans, including a big win in Chattanooga. And while Moench’s steady rise in the sport had plenty to do with her own consistent hard work, she attributes a portion of her improvement to someone else: Her training partner and fellow pro, Australian Renee Kiley.

We help each other train hard and have fun doing it,” Moench said of the Australian native who spent nearly five months last summer and fall sharing her Salt Lake City home. “When training gets heavy and I’m tired, it’s nice to have someone there to get me going. It’s built-in motivation.”

And experts agree. Although getting yourself to the finish line of a triathlon is a solitary (and sometimes lonely) quest, having a training partner in the build-up can be mutually—and exponentially—beneficial for all parties involved, said Erin Haugen, a sports psychologist and triathlete in North Forks, North Dakota, whose clients include several endurance athletes. 

“A training partner can elevate your performance, push you out of your comfort zone, prioritize your training, boost motivation, and help you stay true to the intention of each training session,” Haugen said. “Plus, there’s a really strong relational component when athletes are working toward similar goals. You can build confidence, manage frustration, or encourage each other to grow in ways you didn’t realize were possible.”

Of course, not just any training buddy will do. Like in all successful relationships, there has to be the right mix of personality, interests, intensity, and expectations. This chemistry is something Moench mentioned when chatting about Kiley: While they are both aiming for the top step of the podium in any given race, in training, it’s purely a partnership—not a competition. 

Renee and I click because we both don’t get too emotionally attached to training. There’s no jealousy or drama over whoever ‘wins’ or ‘loses’ a session, and it doesn’t affect our friendship,” she said. “She’s also very happy and fun to be around, and that’s the type of training environment I like to foster.”

RELATED: The 5 Training Buddies Every Triathlete Needs

Skye Moench and Renee Kiley enjoy helping each other through the good days and the bad.

While those endless trainer rides, monotonous swim sets, or monstrous mile repeats may not feel very “fun” in the moment, having a partner-in-suffering can make everything more tolerable. Just ask training buddies and age-group triathletes Lisa Kopp and Laurel Catlett King, who have endured many a hellish session together—and lived to laugh about it. 

“There have been runs where I’m just like, ‘I’m done,’ I can’t go on, and Lisa is like, ‘You’re a mess,’ and then talks me through it,” said Catlett King, of McLean, Virginia. “We all go through it sometimes. Having a training partner just reminds you that, in those dark times, you’re not alone.” 

And, for Kopp, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, when it comes to the value of having Catlett King by her side, the proof is in the PR. 

“Without Laurel, I’d still be chasing my long-time marathon goal,” she said. “She is a decade younger than I am, and I have to work hard to even be in her atmosphere. But pushing myself to catch her, that just takes my performance up a notch. She makes me want to be better.”

Training buddies and age-group triathletes Lisa Kopp (right) and Laurel Catlett King (left).

Thinking about seeking a training partner to elevate your performance this year? Here’s a checklist for finding that perfect match.

Seek out this training partner if they…

are punctual. Let’s face it: You’re busy and time is a serious commodity. A great training partner will show up when promised, ready to go. No waiting game necessary. 

…are flexible. Then again, there are those days when you’re running more than a few minutes late (blame kids, work, whatever). The best partner knows you don’t need a guilt trip on top of that stress. They’ll give you grace—and space—while you hustle to get your act together. 

…stick to the plan. The trainer workout on the docket is 100% FTP for a 20-minute effort? Then that’s exactly what you’ll do. The ideal training partner understands the assignment and treats each workout with a Goldilocks-esque approach: Not too hard, not too easy…just right. 

…but also let you do your own thing. Feeling off, or just super fatigued from a prior workout? If you can’t quite keep up with the set session, they get it. “There are days when you just have to go at your own pace,” Moench said. “There shouldn’t be any shame in going slower or easier if needed, or any judgment from the other person.”

…can laugh at the audacity of it all. When you invest so much time and effort (and, uh, money) into triathlon, it can be a slippery slope into serious-land. But there should also be some levity in training. “We laugh a lot about the silliness of it all,” Kopp said. “Here we are, two women doing these off-the-wall things. We’re both a bit crazy, but that’s what makes us work.” 

look out for you. They know what you need, even before you do. “There are times when I’m like, ‘Lisa, shove this gel into your mouth, you’re a Snickers commercial right now,’” Catlett King joked. Kopp added: “Without her, I might ruin a training session for myself because I don’t realize I need fuel, and she’s right there to remind me.” 

…are your biggest cheerleader. We all want that PR or podium. But in the end, your training partner’s success should be just as rewarding as your own. And on the flipside? If they have a banner day and yours is just bad, they’re able to take a beat and talk you off the ledge. “There have been times when I’m just ready to quit, and Laurel convinces me that tomorrow will be better,” Kopp said. “It makes all the difference.” 

RELATED: Club Hub: How Triathlon Clubs are Bringing Triathletes Together

Training Partner Deal Breakers

They’re super competitive. It’s one thing to want to rip the head off of random competitors on the race course. But if they’re coming into every training session with the intent on crushing you? Red. Flag.  

They’re jealous. You just threw down your quickest off-the-bike 10K to date. Their session was sub-par. If they walk away without acknowledging your efforts (or worse, they get snarky about it), find a new running mate. 

They’re closed off. You can tell something’s bugging them. But when you ask what’s up, they brush it off. Repeatedly. “Training partners don’t necessarily always need to be completely on the same page every day, but they do need to know what page each other is on that day because it will impact your training sessions,” Haugen said. In other words, an incommunicado or emotionally sealed-off training partner may wind up physically draining you.  

 They’re flaky. You make a plan to meet at the pool at 5 a.m…and then they sleep in. On several occasions. If they continuously bail on plans or stand you up, move along. 

No partner? No problem.  

Whether your job or lifestyle precludes you from joining up with someone on the regular or you just enjoy doing your own thing, there’s no shame in the solo game. But you can still try to reap the rewards of partnering up in a less in-your-face way. Start up a group chat with your tri friends so you can check in and commiserate about your respective workout sessions, or hop on Discord to chat during a virtual Zwift meet up. “Having that connectedness to others is so important in sport, and in life,” Haugen said. “Granted, a training partner isn’t completely necessary, but you could be missing out on some growth opportunities.”

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