Today's post is "penned" by Laura Baughman, the Saucony 26Strong cadet who I (Sarah) am coaching to run Chicago Marathon. (This just in: AMR is going to be at Chicago Marathon expo, selling our merch and signing books!) For more about Laura, listen to this podcast or peruse this introductory post.
Last fall, when I first started running regularly, I always ran by myself. I knew plenty of women who were runners, but didn’t consider myself one yet, so I never asked to join anyone. I was slow and lacked form, and didn’t want to reveal my weaknesses to anyone.
My approach was simple: I went online to map my routes, then opened my door and ran. It was never far at first, a few miles here or there, and my only goal was to keep running regularly. I enjoyed the ease of being alone, adjusting my pace or route on the fly. Yet one block at a time, one week after another, I gradually got stronger and built up my confidence as a runner.
Occasionally, I wondered what it would be like to run with the “real” runners in my neighborhood – the cool moms who would chat on the soccer sidelines about training for New York or Boston. I envied their ease with the sport, and wondered what it must be like to be so strong. But more than anything, I was jealous of their camaraderie. For them, running was a shared experience. A social event followed by a round of lattes at Starbucks.
So I opened up to the possibility of running with someone else even if it meant exposing my shortcomings. I began by joining a friend on her neighborhood fun-run onThanksgiving morning. I felt fast and frisky that day – there were 5-year-olds beside me, after all – and my friend took note. A few days later, she invited me on a run. We talked about “everything and nothing” (a phrase used by Tish Hamilton on the same topic in Tales from Another Mother Runner), and our 11-miler together seemed to take less time than a solo 6-miler. Not only did I survive, but I had found my first BRF (best running friend).
That was eight months and three half-marathons ago. I’m faster (and more social) as a runner now and can hold my own with the cool soccer moms. I’m even training for my own destination marathon in Chicago this fall. There’s just one catch – my BRF is now sidelined with a sports hernia and can’t push past four miles. What do to? Run alone? Find a new BRF? Training for a marathon is hard enough with a friend, let alone solo. The decision was easy – find a new partner, and fast.
The first thing I did was text Sarah. (We both live in Portland and had even planned to run together ourselves a few times, but of course she's sidelined this summer, too.) Did she know anyone who might want to mix it up with a newbie? Another mother runner with a similar pace?
Luckily for me, Sarah did not disappoint. She introduced me to her friend Sheila via a joint text, and within a few days, Sheila and I had scheduled our first run. We decided to do 13 miles on a Sunday morning. I chose the course and offered to drive to our starting point. Naturally, I Googled her beforehand and found a few of her race results. (I’m human, after all.) She was accomplished – one of the ‘real runners’ who used to intimidate me. Would I measure up? Would my running gear be fashionable enough?
Ladies, I’m here to tell you, my first blind-date run was great. Sheila was not only easy to talk with, but managed to make me feel like her special little running sister, gently doling advice just for me.
“Your race pace is 8:45? Then let’s run 9:45s today.”
“You have to pee? Just go behind that bush over there. No one will see you.”
“You only brought two GUs for 13 miles? You may want to bring three next time. Here, let’s share one of mine. And have a drink from my water bottle. You really need to hydrate when you’re fueling up with gels.”
Sheila’s best tip of the day will make veteran marathoners laugh: “Be sure and stay off your feet the day before the race.” Well, duh, I thought. It seems so obvious now, months before race day, but I haven’t been to Chicago in years, and know I would have been out pounding the pavement to see the sights. Thank you, Sheila: This little tip alone may be my saving grace on October 11.
When I dropped my new friend off after our run, we talked about running again but didn’t make any specific plans. Sheila undoubtedly has other cool moms to run with, and is leaving on vacation soon. Her next marathon won’t be for another year so our mileage might not line up again when she comes home. But I have a feeling if I text Sheila in September and ask to tag along on her favorite hilly route, she’ll let me come and we’ll fall into an easy rhythm then, too.
Next, I looked within the AMR community. There are a handful of Portlanders participating in the AMR #FindYourStrong Marathon Challenge, and we’re beginning to connect online. I even scheduled a 5-miler with a mom who lives nearby, but she cancelled the night before, saying she had forgotten another appointment. We had talked briefly on the phone a few days earlier, and I sensed we might not hit it off. Maybe she had a similar feeling and her ‘appointment’ was a way out. That’s okay. Even with running, it’s not always going to be a love connection. Some moms aren’t comfortable with what is essentially “MWF seeks AMR for hot, sweaty affair.” Maybe I need a new pick-up line.
In real life, I’ve been happily married for nearly 20 years, so it feels awkward to be on a singles scene of any kind again. I’m an introvert, yet I’m marketing myself like a product. "Hey ladies. You don’t know me, but I’m the best kept secret in day-glow Spandex and sneakers." "I’m a perfect stranger -- let’s go on a run together!" Ugh.
Yet isn’t this the lesson running teaches us? That we are always evolving as athletes and people, and that we have to take risks if we want to reap the rewards? A year ago, running 10 miles would have been a major milestone for me. Now I’m training for a marathon. Where I used to run alone, today I crave the company of others. It’s all about pushing past our comfort zone.
I’m not sure what I’ll try next – maybe join a group run sponsored by a local running store or start up a conversation with the next mother runner I pass on the sidewalk. (Dimity tells me this recently worked for two AMRs in the Denver area who are now training for New York City Marathon together!)
What I do know is I miss my BRF, and I hope she heals soon so I can tell her all about my search for her replacement. It’s almost as fun as running with her.
Now we want to hear from you: If you have a BRF, how did you find her?