Two years ago when I started running again, I ran solo most of the time. Initially, it was my time to process, reflect, and appreciate what my body could do after so many years of dormancy.
Ever so slowly, with every mile, running alone changed from a need, to a want. I wanted to log miles on my own, I wanted to stay in my comfort zone and to only do what I knew MY body could do.
I will cut to the chase: Honestly, I didn’t want to be pushed. I figured that running with friends meant that I would have to run faster, go farther, take more hills, and go beyond what I felt I was capable of doing.
I was right. And I did. Thank God.
My very first lesson in running with a friend came on a short run with my brother in law, not too long after I started up again. I was in Boise for Christmas in 2011, working hard to be healthy and I happened to have my running stuff on when we stopped by their house for a visit.
He asked if I’d like to run with him. I hesitated; I was still in the walk-run-walk-run plan. My brother in law has always been an athlete. I was scared, but my fear of running on Boise’s Greenbelt all alone at dusk was greater than my fear of running with company, so off we went.
It was funny, the two of us, running along the greenbelt. He’s a good 4 inches taller but we were well matched in stride. We talked about my husband, his brother, who I cherish and love so deeply. We talked about his kids, his beautiful wife, my kids, life, church, school, weather. Anything and everything.
We ran intervals: three minutes, with a one minute walk in between. I discovered, by accident, that running with a buddy is not only a good, safe idea, but it makes the time go so quickly. I have no idea how far we went, or even how fast. But I did learn that it’s OK to run with someone who is faster, better, or stronger.
Why? Because when you run with friends, it doesn’t matter. Everything is better with friends.
My next run was with who would become one of my best running friends, Cyndie. I will never forget it. Cyndie is a veteran half marathoner, a newly minted full marathoner, speedy fast and inspiring. I. Was. Terrified.
It was one thing to run with my brother in law who assured me he hadn’t been running in a while. It was another thing entirely to run with someone who could basically run a half marathon any time she pleased, and finish with a smile on her face, medal on her neck and beer in hand. And then run another 5K that night.
I hadn’t yet actually run continuously without stopping in between to walk, nor did I know how far I went (this was before my Garmin and my Daily Mile account!).
For our first outing, we planned to run three miles; she would drop me off at my house across from hers, and then run two or three more. OMG, I thought. Three with me then MORE?!
I apologized several times about how sorry I was to be slowing her down. Psssht she said over and over. It doesn’t matter how fast you go, she told me. It just matters that you run. Pretty sure I clocked ten minute miles at that point, at least a good minute and a half slower than her usual long run pace.
And, she made me run a hill at the end. THE END!? Who does that?! Your best running friend, that’s who. That’s the person who will push you harder, take you farther and knows that you can do so much more than you ever thought you could.
Two years have gone by now, and we’ve logged many miles and many races together, including two half marathons, something I never thought I would do. Recently we started running with another dear friend just getting back to the sport, who I am proud to say has also learned this powerful lesson: running with friends is the greatest gift that running gives you.
Not the race medals, the endless shirts, the beer at the end, the Facebook photos, the satisfaction of a run, well, run! No, the greatest gift of running is running with your friends, taking turns leading the way, pushing each other and standing by them when they are down.
Right now, my best running friend Cyndie is nursing an injury the likes of which you don’t wish on your worst running nemesis. (part of the runner’s code, you NEVER wish injury on ANYONE).
So I offer support and an ear to vent to, I’ve been there done that and not gotten the shirt (there are no race shirts for selling your bib!) when I was injured or ill.
And, I do my best to keep on running with my best running friend Audrey and now another mother runner, Erika. (who is going to leave me in her dust at any given moment). Doing all the things that Cyndie has done for me over the years: coaching, cheering, pushing and supporting.
I’m doing my best to pay it forward while I anxiously await the opportunity to run with her again. And, this time, I will be there to cheer her, support her, coach her and celebrate her recovery.
I can’t wait.
That’s why running is better with friends.