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Best Running Friend Week (#BRFweek): A Tribute to Natalie

 

Karen (left) has, "learned to pause before judgment, care first before criticizing, and to never, ever give up on someone," thanks to Natalie (right), her best running friend.
Karen (left) has, "learned to pause before judgment, care first before criticizing, and to never, ever give up on someone," thanks to Natalie (right), her best running friend.

 

Welcome to #BRFweek, a weeklong tribute to Best Running Friends: forces that push us farther than we thought we could go. As we celebrate all week long on our Facebook page, celebrate your BRF with our special deal in the Mother Runner Store: buy any $25 lifestyle tee, get one for $10 (one for you, one for your BRF). Use code BRF10 at checkout.

To checkout all the happenings of #BRFweek, head here.  Now let's toast to Natalie with this tribute written by her BRF Karen.

Luckily, Natalie inititally approached me after church in the dredges of winter in January, 201. It never would have happened the other way around. Natalie was far too pretty for me to initiate a conversation. Natalie was a million bucks and I was 50 cent. She was Nordstrom and I was Nordstrom Rack.

Could we run together? She was experiencing a slump running solo. You want to run with ME? I figured my conditions would turn her away: we’d have to run early in the morning (her reply: no problem), and she’d have to drive to my house because of my work schedule (again, no problem).

Twin Cities Marathon best running friends
"We had no specific meeting spot before the Twin Cities Marathon, as we were staying in separate hotels and figured it was futile to try to meet beforehand," says Karen, "Lo and behold, we ended up right next to each other in the same porta potty line."

And so we ran. In all conditions, just like our local post people. No matter what weirdness in my work schedule I throw at her, she shows up. Most weekday runs involve a trek for Natalie out to my house in the boondocks, where I always have coffee ready to brew, should Mother Nature nix our plans. (We are in Wisconsin, after all, but we rarely trade endorphins for caffeine.)

Our weekly long run invariably involves an eight-mile loop that carries us along two rivers with a beautiful trail finish that has never, ever become old. Typically, a group of runners gather on those sacred long run days and conversation flows like the rivers we cross. Natalie and I are each other's Sherpas: she brings the hydration, I bring the food.

Of course we have nicknames for each other: some days, we're Shalane and Kara and some days, we're Salty and Sweet. On the run, we can finish each other’s sentences. To purely compare race times, I would appear speedier, but that is misleading. Wee are side by side on a daily basis, only running ahead of each other if one of us gets fired up about something, and subconsciously takes the lead.

The real truth is that our race times have collectively dropped together. To paraphrase a biblical reference, ‘iron sharpens iron, as one friend sharpens another’.

Natalie and Karen got to practice yoga (and carb loading) in Tuscany. Yes, we're envious too.
Natalie and Karen got to practice yoga (and carb loading) in Tuscany. Yes, we're envious too.

We start most races together, but then let each other run our own race, buoyed by a whole training cycle of shared runs.Most ideas for a running adventures start out with, “ya’ know, I had this idea for a run…” and before you know it, we are off to Minnesota, Arkansas, or Tuscany. We ran London Marathon in 2013, just one week after the Boston bombings. The race started with a minute of 35,000+ runners in reverent silence and ended just as quietly at a finish line, absent of pomp and circumstance, fist-pumping or high fives. Dazed finishers walked quickly and quietly from the finish chute to anywhere else in London but there. I am so grateful we shared that day.

And as we logged thousands of miles together, I realized the adage you can’t judge a book by its cover is true—especially if the book is woman with blonde highlights and a million-watt smile.

Natalie is a recovering alcoholic. Naively, I would have used the word “recovered” after several years in sobriety, but she would argue that that alcoholism a daily journey not deserving the finality the suffix “-ed” implies. Her rock bottom wasn’t as low as some, but she doesn’t use that as an excuse to walk away from staring down the disease.

Her ‘pay it forward’ now is to educate others and counsel those going through it, all while maintaining her own sobriety. Many nights each week are spent helping others – especially women and moms —struggling with alcoholism. She brings the message of recovery to women in jail, and her cell phone rings at all hours with calls from people in dire straights.

Though not explicitly mentioned on every run, the patience and wisdom learned as part of her recovery often helps us hash out a solution to problems in a few miles. Natalie’s experience clearly has shaped her insight into the struggles we all have, lending a very keen compassion for those who have stumbled and need a second chance.

Celebrating Karen's 41st birthday with a posse of BRFs.
Celebrating Karen's (center, with headlamp) 41st birthday with a posse of BRFs.

Because of Natalie, I have learned to pause before judgment, care first before criticizing, and to never, ever give up on someone.

I have never met a person more generous with time for others. And lucky for me, she still has time for me—and our miles—at an ungodly hour of the morning. Through thousands of miles run together (including 12 collective marathons), tears from injury and joy, and even shared menstrual cycles, I have learned a lot from the woman I “thought” I knew long ago.

A few years ago, I joked that I ran with Barbie. I’d say now I run with Wonder Woman.

12 responses to “Best Running Friend Week (#BRFweek): A Tribute to Natalie

  1. Let it be known by all who are reading this blog that both of these beautiful women are also extremely talented and smart, they are amazing Moms, loving wives, and visibly dedicated to their faith. I am truly blessed to be able to sit beside such strong women in church on a regular basis. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. And best wishes for many more BRF miles to come!

  2. What a wonderful post. And this lesson “Because of Natalie, I have learned to pause before judgment, care first before criticizing, and to never, ever give up on someone.” is a winner!

  3. I have read this several times, it is a wonderful and moving post. Thank you for sharing your friendship and yourselves and inspiring us all, Karen and Natalie!

  4. Karen, what an awesome tribute to your friendship and to a woman who is beautiful both inside and out. You’re not too shabby yourself, Karen! 🙂 So lucky we all met (thanks AMR!) and that I can call you both friends. See you soon!

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