Behind the scenes at Salty Running, we do a lot of brainstorming and when the idea of sharing our version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” came up, I was so excited I clawed at the first slot! Leading up to our break from regular posting (December 24 – January 4), some of us Saltines will be sharing our personal stories about what running has given us. I know many of you will relate to my choice: my incredible group of running friends.
I am an extrovert to the max! But when I started running I was terrified to join anybody on a run. I was slow and took frequent walk breaks, I huffed and puffed and my feet thundered below me. I was insecure. I didn’t want to slow somebody down or allow myself to show my vulnerability to another person. Little did I know that letting others in was a thousand times more impactful to my life than losing a few dress-sizes or running huge PRs.
Running is an individual sport, but even as a newbie I knew at some point I would be asked to join a group run or at least, to run with a friend. I worried about looking foolish and obsessed about whether or not I’d be able to match the pace of my partner. All those worries seem so silly five years later; I can’t imagine what running would be like had I never faced my fears and initiated that first running date.
While training for my first half-marathon I connected with a few girlfriends on social media who were also brand-new runners training for the same race. Since we were all new, now that I look back it isn’t surprising that we all ran close to the same pace and were equally terrified of the huge undertaking that is training for your first half-marathon. Back then though, it seemed like a huge coincidence.
When I finally met one of them for a long run, I discovered misery really does love company, and also that long runs with a friend transform that misery into something else completely. Together we huffed and puffed through our first ever eight-, nine-, and ten-mile runs. We laughed at the idea of running a “conversational” pace, as we could hardly sputter a word or two. Sometimes we stopped, stretched, and wondered whether we would survive that run, much less the looming half-marathon ahead of us. We learned about fueling, bathroom stops, and dealing with adverse weather. Together.
The benefits of those shared weekend adventures extended far into the lonely week of solo runs. So many times I struggled through midweek miles but got through them just so I could compare notes next time I met my running buddy. Having her softened the often rough transition from couch-potato to runner, and going through it with her also made it more meaningful. As the weeks of the training progressed, even though we were still slow sparks of confidence ignited into the real deal. And after we successfully made it through the race our transformations were complete!
Before I felt like a bona-fide runner I used to spend hours plotting routes; now we know a reliably good route for every distance, and each of those routes has a memory forever stamped into it. No longer is the gas station in South Fargo just a gas station; instead, I look at it and think about a 16-mile run on a Friday night where the clerk told my partner and me to “have a nice little jog.” We laughed and told him that our little jog was actually 16-miles.
We’ve run though sprinklers in the oppressive heat, done long runs on indoor tracks when it’s -20 degrees outside, and found hills in the downtown parking garages. Some days we talk and laugh through the entire run. Other days we listen to our own music, but feel comforted simply running next to one another. I don’t always need conversation but just need to hear the matching footsteps of my partner beside me.
Since that first half-marathon, my circle of running friends has grown, and those people I was so afraid to run with back in the beginning are now my posse of pals to share late night and early morning texts about weather, wardrobe choices or route plans. We share our gels when someone runs out. We talk about the struggles of being a parent, friend, or spouse. We share our joys and our low points. When I’ve felt discouraged by a crappy run my partners have always been there to tell me how far I’ve come and remind me that bad days are part of the process. Having these women in my life is like having my own cheering squad, and I love that I can be there for them, too!
Some runners love to run solo for the peace and quiet, or just to get away from it all. Even though for a brief time in the beginning I thought running with others might be a bad idea, I now crave that connectedness. My relationship with the sport of running goes far beyond pace, mileage, and the races I have run. The friendships I have made through running are what keep me going when I feel like quitting.
So thank you; Michele, Nicole, Erika, Julie, Stacie, and Kate for all the miles we’ve spent together and for all the ups, downs, post-run coffee dates, and, of course, the selfies too.
And thank you, Running, for bringing all of them to me.
For all the 12 Days of Running posts, go here!