Here is a column I wrote for the paper I work at.
And here it is if you don’t want to click (though you should, because the paper is pretty good).
About seven years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to a woman at a local race. He told me he thought we would get along, and that we might like to run together.
I shook her hand, exchanged some small talk and didn’t think too much more about it.
But then I ran into her at the gym where we’re both members. I probably walked by her four or five times before I decided to muster up the courage to ask her to go for a run one day.
Sometimes, I swear, it feels like making new friends is as stressful and complicated as dating. And I was about as nervous asking her to go run as I would have been asking someone to dinner.
She said yes, and we set a date.
On one of our early runs, we talked about having met at the race. And then she shared, after much prodding, that she had won the race. I was in awe. I’d never gone for a run with someone who had won a race (except in track, I guess, a lifetime ago).
I couldn’t believe I was out there. With her. Running along the bike path. I felt like a rock star just by association. And after a few weeks, I realized, wait a minute, I was keeping up with her.
I wasn’t running as elegantly as she was – please, I was gasping and gagging and asking her nonstop questions so she wouldn’t realize I could barely manage to utter a word.
But every run, I held on a bit longer. It got a little easier. And we got to know one another better and better.
The first time I kept up with her the whole way, without asking her to stop and walk with me for a second, I was amazed.
We ended up training that whole winter for spring marathons, and some of my best running memories are from that time.
A wet, cold 17-miler, where we finished completely soaked and covered in wet leaves we had kicked up the back of our legs.
A miserably snowy run where we got so sick of hopping the snow piles on curbs that we just ran down the middle of the street, too exhausted to care.
A horribly cold run on New Year’s Day, when I swear it was 30-below windchill. That day we did what we often do – ran a bit with a group and then decided to add on a few more miles, just because. She’s a beast, and when you run with her, you want to be a beast, too.
The friends I’ve made running in Sioux Falls are better than any friends I’ve ever had. That’s the truth. It’s an amazing community. And once you find your way in, it’s full of possibility.
Those possibilities were realized that day I first kept up with Kristen.
You realize that sometimes it really is just about hard work, that you’ll never know if you can do something until you try. I’ve never met a running friend in this town who doesn’t applaud a decent effort, no matter the result.
There’s something to be said for running with a group. Not competing with the group, not turning every run into a race, but for following each other’s footsteps, for hearing each other breathe, after the conversation fades and hard work sets in.
Hearing the quiet curses as we all hump up a hill, together. Helping push each other just a little – not to the edge, but right up against it.
I think we all race alone, really. But training together makes that possible. You already know that you aren’t the only one dying out there; you’ve watched your friends crest a hill and slow to a jog, recovering from the effort. You’ve caught up with them and realized that they’re hurting, too. It’s not just you.
And that’s how on another recent morning, I found myself waiting well before dawn on a downtown corner, as two friends ran a detour to pick me up. And like that first run with Kristen, I thought: I hope I can keep up with this crew.
I hadn’t run with them in a while, and they had told me the day before to be ready for hills.
And you know what? I was.