I took a slightly different route on my run yesterday morning, cutting down 40th Street. Moving past the unfamiliar houses, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a powerful deja vu. Looking around trying to figure out what triggered it, I realized: this is the route I took with Holly when were training for our first marathon (read about mine here). It was during the year my marriage was ending. We began training in the summer – June July August September. My husband moved out in early September, I ran the marathon in early November, and filed for divorce about two weeks later. Through the turmoil, Holly was beside me, logging the miles. Sometimes I would talk about it, but mostly I didn’t. She knew there was something wrong, but also knew when to ask questions and when to simply be quiet. Our running, and the friendship that she and I developed, was a light for me.
So during my run yesterday, I was thinking abut that – about the friendships that form when you run with someone. I’ve written about this before, as I think it’s a great allegory, and because the friendships I have with my running partners are the most profound I have ever known. When you run with someone, you see their everything. You see their very best, their greatest potential, and you see the dark spots that they probably don’t reveal readily. Maybe it’s because of all those endorphins we release, making us a little bit drunk and helping us drop our barriers, to lose our “mute” buttons. Once somebody becomes a running partner, they’re a friend for life, and occupy a place in your heart that is quite different from where we keep other friends, no matter how dear. I know this isn’t true only for running; it’s true for all sports, but the mine is the only sport I can speak to.
A few weeks ago, someone named Lisa Harris spoke at an event for Back on My Feet, a group that utilizes the sport of running to transform the lives of people coping with homelessness. It’s hard to describe the emotion in the room as she spoke about the program, and the participants who have chosen to dedicate themselves to changing their lives. Back on My Feet has volunteers who commit to running with the program participants multiple times per month, every month, always with the same group, and you know what happens? Amazing, powerful friendships are born. The homeless man who last year was lying, unwashed and unkempt, beside a dumpster in an alley – the man your eyes might settle on for a moment but who you would quickly look away from – blossoms. There’s a video here that illustrates how truly remarkable this is, and another here that features participants describing the program, and what it meant to them. The common theme for all of us is Never Give Up. We don’t give up on each other, and we don’t give up on ourselves. We keep our promises, and if we tell our running partner that we will meet them on the corner at 5:45am, we will be there, no excuses. Why? Because, as Lisa said when talking about BOMF and the Boston Marathon, we run together. We, all of us, are a team; we’re on this path together. Last year, the bombings at the Boston Marathon traumatized everybody involved, and this year, many of them went back to finish their race. As runners, we all ran with them, shedding tears and sharing their triumph when they crossed the finish line. And what I have grown to realize is this: that every running partner I have ever had is STILL running with me. Holly was with me yesterday, Tara is with me every time I go south on the Towpath or when my legs find their stride and I feel effortless joy, and Des is with me…well, pretty much always (she and I are currently training for the Chicago Marathon this year).
Ask me again why I run. And then come, and I will show you.