On the 6th Day of Christmas, Running Gave to Me: Friendship with my Sister

I am seven years older than my sister, which is kind of a big gap, especially when we were younger. Growing up, we always got along well, but we had a pretty typical big kid/little kid dynamic. When I was in high school, she would come to all of my field hockey games to cheer me on. After I moved away for college, I would hear all about how she was following in my field hockey footsteps over the phone. As we got older and the age gap seemed less significant, we became closer, and I started thinking of her as my friend in addition to my little sister.

But the one thing that really brought us the closest was running.

My sister got into running before I did. First it was shorter races and half marathons, and I would listen to her recount her mileage for the week, wondering why anyone would ever be interested in that. In field hockey, running off the hockey field was a punishment, so it was unfathomable to me why she or anyone else would voluntarily run for hours at a time.

My sister and me after a high school field hockey game on Halloween!
My sister and me after a high school field hockey game on Halloween.

I half-ignored this new development until my sister started training for her first marathon, encouraged by my dad who had run several. I happened to be home the weekend she ran her first twenty-mile training run, and it was pouring down rain. She walked into my parents’ house, soaked and exhausted, while I was sitting on the dry, warm couch watching TV. Even though I told her she was crazy, I secretly thought to myself: what a bad ass. I wonder if I could ever do that myself. 

A few weeks later, my sister was running the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., and I went out to spectate. Every time I saw her along the course, she looked so happy and so strong. When she crossed the finish line, I thought to myself: what a badass. I have to do that next year.

The next day, I went out for my first run in a very long time, and a year later I was on the Marine Corps starting line … with my sister.

Since then, my sister and I have continued to bond over running. Whether it’s plotting which race to run next, talking about our latest training plan, or competing over who has lost the most toenails lately, we talk about running pretty much every day. She helps me when I’m too hard on myself, and I help her to push herself to the next level. Together, we’ve been through all of the highs and lows that running brings: the anticipation of a big goal race, the thrill of finishing a marathon, the exhilarating PRs; but also the injuries, illnesses, burnout, and fatigue.

My sister was there last year when I ran my huge PR in Chicago, and I was there for her big comeback marathon after a stress fracture this fall. Through it all, we’ve been each other’s biggest cheerleader, rejoiced in each other’s successes, and supported each other when things didn’t go as planned. Running has become such a huge part of my life, and it has made me a happier, healthier person. But getting even closer to my sister has been the best part, hands down. I’m so grateful that I decided to follow in her footsteps for a change!

zest and sister wedding

Has running helped you bond with a family member?

A former field hockey goalkeeper, I discovered a love for marathons in 2014. I'm a three-time Boston qualifier with a 3:18 marathon PR and a 1:30 PR in the half. When I'm not dodging tourists while running on the National Mall, I work as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. I write about training, competition, and everything in between.

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10 comments

  1. Love this! The second year I was leading a half-marathon training group in our town, my mom decided to join it, too. It was fun to see her make running friends and cheer for her at races. She lives about 2 hours away now and isn’t running as much, but she does coach middle school cross country which is super cool!

  2. I cannot relate at all. Nope. Not one bit …. Hi Cinnamon!

    It was a little backwards for us — I was the OR (original runner) in our family, but running made us so much closer. It’s a wonderful thing to share with those we love :)

  3. Yet again, another thing running gave to us that I can totally relate to! My sister and I, were not always the closest but running was something we could bond over, and talk without arguing, and was never really seen as a competition between us. While our relationship is way better all around now, the running still helps it. I ran her first post-baby race with her, and I cannot wait for her to do the same with me next year.

  4. Awww – love this! My sister is 6 years younger, and like you found, it was a big gap. We only started to become remotely like friends as adults once I had my kids and it gave us some common group. She tried running briefly a few years ago, but didn’t stick with it. I hope that some day she comes back to it!

  5. Awww, look at all this sibling love! I am 6 years younger than my brother, 9 years younger than my sister, and was always the baby. I credit them for getting me into running and it has totally bonded us. Now that we’re adults, we are finally friends, and we love to run together and support each other. Wouldn’t be the same without running!

  6. I went for my first run in 8th grade with my sister (my mom didn’t want her to go alone). I ran 2 miles in Keds. Then a few years later I joined the cross-country and track team in high school to be like her.