For the past few months, I’ve been meeting a close friend to run on the weekend. She-who-shall-remain-nameless (unless she’s reading and would like to give a shout out here) has been an inspiration to me this running season. She and I go way back in our friendship, and yet our running history is young and evolving. We met in graduate school, and I had the good fortune of being assigned to the same Peace Corps country where we trained and worked together for a few years. Some years later, I moved to the same city where she lived, and some years after that, she bought a house down the road from mine. We have been fellow students, colleagues, and neighbors, and it feels like we have always been friends.
I have never had a running partner. I ran on teams for a few years in high school, which was fun, but running was and is still very much a solo venture. I train alone and I race alone. I’ll go for a casual run with my father, but I infrequently join a group. For me, running really isn’t a social endeavor. It’s challenging enough to get myself out the door, let alone strategize and coordinate with others about when and where and how to meet.
Enter she-who-shall-remain-nameless. Let’s call her Sal. Sal is fairly new to running. For quite a long time, however, she has been dedicated to improving her fitness by working with a personal trainer, taking Pilates and lifting weights. At some point she spent some money getting geared up and invested in a good pair of running shoes, and started walking, then quickly progressed to running.
For the past few months, I’ve been mentally in the game, but physically struggling. I dream about running, but I’m sleep deprived due to a common condition frequently called “Having Children”. In September I sprained and in October I re-sprained my left ankle. The first sprain was noble: I was tearing down a trail in Forest Park at dusk. The re-sprain was depressing: I fell in my driveway taking out the recyclables. Subsequently I didn’t get out nearly as often during the workweek as I hoped.
But on Saturday or Sunday mornings, I got up. I got up because I knew Sal was waiting for me (and because I had coffee). We ran in the coolness and drizzle that defines Portland. We ran by the river and we ran in the parks. We ran on the bike trail and we ran in the neighborhood. Typically, we ran together for a mile or so, and then went our separate ways, meeting again toward the end of our run. After the first ten minutes, my friend usually suggested that we split up to enjoy our own pace. I wonder if she was also eager for a little peace and quiet, as I’m known to chat just a wee bit on the run.
Last summer, Sal and I finished the Skirtchaser 5K in Vancouver. A few months later, we both participated in the Turkey Trot 4-miler at the Oregon Zoo. And this past year, I’ve observed my friend increase her distance to include a 10K or two. When I registered for the Holiday Half Marathon in Portland, just a few days went by before she, too, had signed up!
13.1 miles is a serious distance. We were committed.
Predictably, race day morning dawned chilly, but pleasantly, it wasn’t wet. After navigating the parking and shuttle situation, Sal and I wished each other the best and agreed to meet at a designated spot near the finish line. About two hours later, I felt great (tender ankle didn’t scream during the race and a blister wasn’t nearly as bad as it felt during mile nine). This morning’s familiar, scenic course took me down neighborhood streets, under my favorite city bridge and close to home. Friendly bell-ringing volunteers greeted me as I finished and I quickly got in line for a hot beverage.
Looking out for my friend, I admired the runners as they came in, one by one or in groups of two or three or even four. There were fast finishers, smiling finishers, struggling finishers, and quiet finishers. Men and women, young, old, and in between. Every one of them was a joy to cheer on in to the finish and a fellow spirit in the running community.
My friend finished not long after me, and found me near the ever-longer soup and beer line. I am so happy to have been a part of her first half-marathon (indirectly, which is what is so great about running – each person is truly responsible for their own running on their own).
Recently, she told me she is moving away. She accepted a fantastic job in a city three hours north of our neighborhood. I am happy for her, and yet I will miss her.
I will miss knowing that she is just down the street, and that we can’t get together for a quick coffee (or a run) any time we want. I remember spending Thanksgiving dinner in her home last year, and the many evenings she joined us at our home for dinner or we crashed, babies, toddlers, etc, into hers. I will miss caring for her sweet pug, who we frequently welcome into our home while she travels, and because I no longer travel internationally, I will miss hearing about her adventures abroad on a regular basis.
Is three hours too long a commute to meet your running partner?
Of course, I know we’ll still chat by phone and e-mail and visit. And I’m excited to train for an event in my friend’s soon-to-be new city. But I will miss her all the same.
To what lengths have you gone to meet or inspire or develop your running relationships? Gotten up at dawn? Left work early? Fought rush hour traffic?
Tell me your stories of friendship on the roads or on the trails. I want to continue to be inspired.