This past week I made the time for two very different social outings. I say “made the time” as I have learned that I have to be deliberate about making time for things that I find valuable. We are all busy and have a million excuses as to why we don’t get around to things we say are important. It may sound harsh to say that we make too many excuses. However, I have used the “too busy” reason occasionally and likely still do, knowing very well that I find plenty of ways to waste time even on a busy day (for example the social media time suck). There’s a quote I love and try to remind myself as often as I can “If something is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you will find an excuse”. Anyway, back to the topic of meaningful friendship.
My first social outing was with a group of people I have started to get to know since we returned from New Zealand last October. I have vague connections with this group of women through shared parenting experiences. The company was friendly, and I had a good time connecting with newer people and learning a little about everyone there. It was a decent night, but not one where I walked away feeling like I had made strong connections. My next outing was on Saturday with my training partner and close friend on a long run that we both were dreading. The weather had been pretty crap, and the winter cold that hadn’t let go was sticking around for at least one more weekend, making the start of a 20-mile run 9 degrees. Both of us lacked excitement for this adventure. Still, like the dedicated runners we often are, we knew that the upcoming 50-mile race in California 3 weeks away could care less about our feelings and lack of motivation. So we laced up and put on as many layers as possible while starting a run uphill, slid in the hand warmers she brought for that bonus comfort, and set off to get it done. If you’re reading this and you’ve trained for long-distance races in the Winter, you know the struggle. A funny thing happened while we were running. We went from complaining to laughing to sharing the continued unfolding stories of our lives. We shared parenting frustrations and joys and discussed those deeper topics that only come out with our closest people or while sharing long miles with friends. We had an amazing run, and I went home so thankful for this friendship and the commitment I have made to follow through on important things.
The difference is these two experiences I had last week could not be more drastic. The first one, I gathered with acquaintances and shared the basics that we share when making small talk and trying to figure out whether a new person is someone you can find common ground with. The second was effortless, and it always is. Of course, this friend I have now run hundreds of miles with, but it was this way from the start of our first run. We ran up Hope Pass the summer before I moved to NZ and shared our upbringings and similarities. We quickly arrived at a non-judgmental comfort level that can be hard to find in friendships, especially female ones.
To add more evidence to my theory of the authenticity and longevity found in friendships of runners who share miles, the friends I feel most comfortable with are those I’ve sweated alongside up and down dusty trails and through icy snowstorms. I will share a couple of friendships that became automatic keepers. There’s the friend I recently reconnected with at Black Canyon 100K last month, with whom I trained for the Leadville Trail 100 during the summer of 2017. During those summer miles, as we both geared up for what turned out to be solid races for us both, I got to hear about the joys and stresses in her life, and she got to hear all about my life as a single mom and then my life as I met Mike. She was there for all of it. Due to schedules and distance, we went years without seeing each other with occasional texts, and only last month reconnected. It felt like it did when we flew to Austin, Texas, to qualify for Leadville in 2017. We picked up where we left off, only now our kids are much older, and we are both trying to redefine what it means to still compete as Masters runners.
There’s the friend I call when the weather couldn’t get any worse around here, as I know he’s always up for some resilience-building miles. Shortly after our arrival back to Colorado, we ran into each other in the child drop-off lane at school, and without hesitation, he agreed to join me on a snowy run. We slogged around Green Mountain in an epic snowstorm, with my dog laughing the whole way as we slid around, struggling to see the trail. It wasn’t pretty out there, but with the excellent company of a friend that always seems to find the bright side, that adventure is one I will remember for a while.
There are the two incredible women I am in a continual group text conversation with when big things are happening in our lives or when we want to discuss silly things happening in the running world. Before I moved away, we would get together around my birthday and run somewhere long, catching up on everything. We still plan adventures, even if they are months or even years away. One will travel with me to Sonoma in a couple of weeks.
There’s the friend I started training with many years ago when I had just started ultra running. He ran alongside me as I was going through a divorce. I ran alongside him as his young wife was unfairly dying of cancer. The list goes on.
As I write this, I realize how grateful I am for these friendships born out of a shared love of doing this crazy thing, so many of us love to do. While I do have a couple of close friends who do not share this passion for running long but who have stood the test of time and who would be there for me in a minute (and vice versa) if I needed them, I have noticed that as I get older, the friendships that click and endure are those that I make and grow on the trail. I am unsure if it is the shared experience of sweating beside and striving towards things that sometimes seem impossible or if running long distances attracts those of us who seek out relationships that go way beyond talking about stuff that doesn’t really matter. But I know I am a better person, mom, wife, therapist, and runner because of these relationships. While I spend many miles alone throughout the week due to schedules and the necessity of making time when I can, that long Saturday run fills me up and provides meaning and community that can be so lacking in our busy world. If you have yet to find yourself one of these golden friendships, make the time to look around at your local run club, races, and neighborhood and find someone to schedule a 2-hour run with. You may be surprised that you walk away from that run knowing this person better than the person you have worked alongside for the past five years. Running is good. Running long distances with friends is even better.