Don’t ask me to go running with you. The answer is probably going to be, “No”. I don’t enjoy running with a group. I prefer to be out early in the morning running on my own. However, I would also admit that some of the best workouts I’ve ever done in my life were done trying to keep up with guys who were faster than me.
I have several reasons why I typically don’t run in groups. I won’t get into those reasons in this article, but there’s no question that I’d be a better road runner if I spent more time working out with guys who are stronger and faster than I am.
In this week’s episode of Unbeatable, I had the privilege of interviewing Travis Pheanis. Travis spent years of his life in the United States Army, in the Ranger community. Since retiring from the Army, Travis continues to serve warriors as the director of the National Ranger Association.
And he is also the director of the Best Ranger Competition.
As soon as Travis and I sat down to talk, we began to exchange stories about some of the incredible warriors that we had the privilege of serving alongside. When you listen to this episode, you’ll notice that the conversation quickly turns to the Best Ranger Competition.
Travis and I are two of the world’s biggest fans of this competition. This grueling event brings the best of the best together in the spirit of friendly competition. Rangers don’t do anything half-way. Therefore, this competition brings a level of pain and sacrifice that almost nothing else on earth can produce. This competition puts greatness on display for the world to watch live over a 2.5 day period.
Greatness comes in groups
I learned this first-hand from Aaron Weaver, my first partner in the Best Ranger Competition. Hands down, Aaron was much faster than I was. I could run farther distances, but he could outrun me in any medium or short-distance event. Therefore, when we started training together seriously for the Best Ranger Competition, I struggled to keep up with him.
I’ll never forget when we were seriously training for the competition in 1995, and we decided to do one-mile intervals around a track in Fort Benning, Georgia. I had hoped to run 5 or 6 one-mile intervals at a pace of around 5 minutes per mile. I typically did workouts like this by myself and pushed myself as hard as possible.
On this spring morning, Aaron decided he wanted to work out with me. I struggled every step of the way on the first one-mile sprint. As I looked down at my watch after crossing the one-mile mark, I realized I had just run one of my fastest miles ever at 4:45.
Several mile interval sprints were left to go, and Aaron ran each interval faster than the first sprint! It was immediately clear to me that there was no way I would have hit these speeds if Aaron wasn’t one half-step ahead of me the entire workout. I gave this and every subsequent workout everything I had, because I didn’t want to let my partner down.
During the 1995 Best Ranger Competition, Aaron pushed me to run faster than I’d ever run in my life, and I pushed him to run farther than he’d ever run. Although we finished in a disappointing 4th place that year, Aaron showed me a new level of capability I didn’t know I had.
Why it’s easier in the middle of the pack
Any serious runner knows that it’s easier to be in the middle of the pack than in the front of the pack. The rest of the runners can draft off one another in the middle of the pack. The guy or gal in the front of the pack is called the “rabbit”. And, except for Steve Prefontaine, the rabbit almost never wins the race. The rabbit rarely wins, because this runner must set the pace and face the winds. Everyone else benefits from the rabbit’s hard work.
The rabbit does something else for the runners, though. The rabbit often challenges runners to go faster than they really wanted to go. I can think of multiple distance events when I ran harder than I wanted to, because the rabbit was starting to pull away from me. Athletes like Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, and Aaron Weaver made everyone around them better because of the level of discipline and hard work they brought to practice every day.
It’s easier to go faster when you surround yourself with great people. When you train with talented people, they’re going to push you farther and faster than by going it alone. It should be obvious that if you want to accomplish something great in the office, then surround yourself with people who are already doing great things at work. If you want to accomplish something great at school, then get in the middle of the pack around a group of great scholars. If you want to become great in sports or the arts or entertainment, surround yourself with people who are much more talented than you, and just keep step with them.
Who you’re running with makes all the difference
The pack is important to your performance, but who’s in the pack you’re running with is vastly more important. If you surround yourself with the dregs of society, don’t be surprised when you become like them one day. If you surround yourself with amazing people, don’t be surprised if you become a pretty amazing person one day, also.
This brings me back to Travis Pheanis and the Best Ranger Competition.
One of the greatest privileges of hosting the Unbeatable podcast is the opportunity to have conversations with guys like Travis. One of the reasons why I show up at an unholy hour in the morning at the start of the competition is because I love being around that level of great warriors.
Take a hard look at the crowd that you’re running with. Are they great enough to make you stronger, faster, and greater than you would be on your own? If not, why are you still running with them?