The friendship of running

Written on Aug 6th, 2012 by , Category Marlene Farrell Blog, Trail Running, Training

By Marlene Farrell

Running is often solitary. Just me, the road and my thoughts. Some runners manage to run in groups. But running with others requires agreement akin to diplomacy (i.e. agreement on pace, distance, route and time of day). If one or more runners have specific race goals or training plans, then give-and-take is necessary. When I’m training specifically, I find I’d rather train alone than force friends to follow the dictates of my plan.

Right now, I can happily report, that’s not the case. I’m running by desire and feel, and by how early I wake up and which trails are snow-free. And I’m also carving out opportunities to run with my friends. The power of friendship trumps my need for specific paces or distances. The shared experience makes me eager for more. The act of running together, moving side by side, sometimes grinding up a hill, unable to speak, or stretching it out on a straightaway, enables pretenses to drop away and meaningful conversation and understanding to rise to the surface.

It can tie together the past with the present.

My best friend Jenny lives across the country in Virginia. We are separated by too many miles, too many time zones for easy phone calls, and divergent busy lives. When I visited recently, we got our kids together for visits to a museum and a playground. Our families also granted us the luxury of a run, just the two of us. Our 20-year high school reunion is approaching and it’s been about that long since we ran our cross country course at Baron Cameron Park. The course is incredibly haphazard. It crisscrosses some ball fields and runs the perimeter of others, takes a thousand short cut trails through the woods and twists and turns countless times. Our combined memories pieced it together that day and we retraced our steps, though not in racing spikes, and without our dads waiting by the big tree that marks the finish line.

Our times together, runs now and in high school, and backpack trips on the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail in between, are stepping stones across the deep water of our lives. Our friendship, tested and strong, disperses the particulates that can cloud perceptions. I look into the rushing waters of Jenny’s crazy mornings, getting two little ones off to preschool and daycare before her full-time teaching job, and I can see my own reflection hovering on the surface. I get a new view on my own life as I swap stories with Jenny. All of this happens while we’re moving, without conscious effort, as we are caught up in the stream of running camaraderie.

I have a new friend here in Leavenworth. Running served as matchmaker to bring us together. Carrie is new to town and at first she was just another face at the elementary school, dropping off her kids, helping in the classroom. I didn’t know her name. But then we saw each other, early mornings, running in opposite directions, smiling and offering a friendly “Good morning.” The possibility of this woman bearing some resemblance to me, in her predawn running habit, her similarly aged children, her nearby house on the outskirts of town, made me giddy with excitement. The next time I saw her at school I boldly asked her name and arranged a running date, meeting at the corner of Icicle and East Leavenworth roads. We meet for runs occasionally now, coming from opposite directions and one of us pivoting around, shuttle run style, to fall in step with the other. What has impressed me most, more than our running compatibility, is how Carrie could see into me one day when I was upset about something and trying to hide it. Carrie is a sensitive, kind person, and she nudged the edge of my sadness like an old friend. I would have obfuscated with many friends that I have known longer, but running together made me trust Carrie enough to tell her the truth. Now I look forward to more opportunities to run with her and share the calm beauty of being out as the world awakens.

In town there is a tight-knit group of strong women that run at least four days a week together. They have traversed life’s peaks and valleys collectively, just as they have run up and down mountains together. I am a sporadic addition to the group and I’m so grateful for their cheerful embracing of this interloper. Sometimes I need to be filled in on a back-story so I can keep up with the current conversation. Mostly I run alongside them, and the weekday hour or weekend half-day of running slips by in a blur of funny stories and comfortable silence.

The act of running together, with Cascade High School athletes, PD Elementary Strider kids, my teammates on the Seattle Running Club cross country team, and strangers that share my pace in a race, endears all of these people to me. I want to call each and every one of them, “Friend.” Because, by running with me, they see into my heart, and value, at least a little, something that matters a lot to me. Thank you, friends!

Marlene Farrell is a Leavenworth writer and long-distance runner who has qualified twice for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. She also helps coach the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club.

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