Friday night, I cooked a new pasta dish. It was tasty—bursting with bits of artichoke and tomato--yet slightly bitter. The recipe called for adding a bit of honey at the end if the sauce tasted too tart, yet I was in such a hurry to serve my ravenous gang, I skimmed right past that end note. With every bite, I kept thinking the dish was good, but it lacked something. I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
Looking back a few years, I now can see my running was like that Pasta Rafael recipe: enjoyable, but missing something. I realize it was a regular running partner.
When my kids were little, I’d occasionally run with my good friend Ellison: The miles passed by in an engaging blur of books read and childhood memories shared. But it takes 25 minutes to run to E’s house—too far to go for an early morning weekday run. Training for the 2010 Portland Marathon, Sheila and I joined running forces and swapped tales of our like-aged kids. But, again, she lives about two miles away.
My appetite for solo running was keen, though: Episodes of “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me” and playlists populated by Lady Antebellum and Eddie Vedder kept me company. With earbuds jammed in my ears, I couldn’t hear what I was missing. Turns out it was the voice—and laughter—of Molly.
Molly, a mother of three like me who lives a mere six short blocks from my house. While we usually meet between our houses, I know from the few times she’s had to make one more poopstop, I mean, pitstop before heading out the door to meet me, that it takes a mere four minutes to get from my backdoor to her front one.
Molly, a woman who wasn’t a runner when we met through elementary school carpool. I’d pull up in front of her house and as her daughters clamored into my Honda Odyssey, Molly and I would shoot the breeze. More often than not, my hair was still damp from a post-workout shower, so the conversation often veered toward where I’d run or how many miles I’d cover. The look on Molly’s face conveyed wonderment, disbelief, envy, and a smidge of disdain. By the time my older daughter was in first grade, envy had won out, and Molly started run-walking on her lunch breaks as a veterinarian.
Molly, a newly minted mother runner who quickly progressed through her first half-marathon, an injury-riddled, aborted marathon attempt, then her successful 26.2 victory lap in 2011. While I vividly remember running by her side for the final miles of that Portland Marathon on a misty morning, I can’t pinpoint when we started running together on a regular basis.
It started out with weekend long runs done more often together than solo. Over the course of a year or thereabouts, we added on hill repeats on Mondays. Next came track sessions on Wednesday, as we started training for a marathon together. All at Molly’s suggestions, not mine, as I recall.
Usually in a relationship, I’m the bossy one. But Molly, in a manner as subtle and sly as her humor, steered our running partnership. It never would have occurred to me to ask Molly to share the pain of 800-meter repeats on the refurbished high school track. Yet once we fell into silent step, one behind the other, it made perfect sense. I played a race playlist on my iPhone in my pocket—the 21st century equivalent of a boombox, we joked—and she usually lead the way.
Never once have we run out of conversation, whether the talk is of Molly’s latest sewing project; my most recent AMR trip; my kids’ basketball and soccer games; her older daughter’s journey through the college admission gauntlet; my parents' health; our shared love of pioneer history; or neighborhood goings-on. And jokes: lots and lots of quips, barbs, and comical yarns.
Like a great episode of VEEP or Parks and Recreation, lines uttered on our runs make me laugh uproariously—yet as soon as it’s over, I can’t remember a single joke. (Well, except this recent one that I imprinted to memory just so I could share it here. Scene: We pass a woman standing solo with a dog on a leash. Woman is having a lively one-sided conversation. Me to Molly: “I trust she was talking on the phone with a bluetooth and not to her dog.” Molly: “Me, too—because her dog didn’t seem too interested in what she was saying.”)
These days, as Molly and I head into training for the Victoria Marathon in October, we run side-by-side on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Sundays. Molly often has to work on Saturdays or my kids have morning sports match-ups, so I run solo. Now, as I fumble with earbuds and trying to decide whether I feel like talk or tunes, it feels so odd to know no one is running to meet me. Like that Pasta Rafael dish, my runs always benefit from some honey—in the form of my BRF, Molly.