In 2009, I lived in Florida and understood running as something other people inexplicably did. Then, one day, out of the blue, my good friend and fellow teacher Blythe decided that she and I were going to start running.

We sprint/walked our way through the neighborhoods in the way of small children and new runners until another friend introduced us to a magical new way of running: slowly and sustainably. Within days we had each run the first full mile of our lives.

That day I became a runner. I became someone who took up challenges only recently unimaginable.

Three smiling women

My Florida friends: Ali (duplex-mate) and Blythe (who made me run – and made me a runner)

I will always be grateful to Blythe for her deep and meaningful friendship – but also for giving me the gift of running.

The following year I moved to Georgia to live with the man I would later marry. I never regretted the decision, but I struggled to acclimate to my new home. In Florida, I worked with all my best friends—one of whom I also shared a duplex with—and always had somewhere to go, someone to be with.

Looking for Friends in All the Wrong Places

My new coworkers in Georgia were lovely people, but they weren’t my people. They weren’t the girlfriends I could call any hour of the day at night. The girlfriends with whom I could share the full spectrum of my life, from the extremely shallow to the cavernous depths.

Throughout my first few years in Georgia, I bounced around several jobs, picking up a master’s degree and major career change along the way. But I never found the kinds of friends I had in Florida.

Prevailing social wisdom promised friends would arrive alongside motherhood. I had a baby and waited for those mom friends to materialize.

They did not materialize.

Then, one day, out of the blue, I ran across a Facebook group called Decatur Moms Run This Town (DMRTT). Earlier that week we had celebrated our daughter’s first birthday and moved into a home in Decatur. I had fallen out of the running habit in motherhood and had been trying to convince myself to get out the door. DMRTT advertised biweekly group runs with the promise of “no mama left behind.”

I wanted to get back to running. I wanted friends. Showing up seemed like a no-brainer.

The next day, I pulled on some running clothes, kissed my kid and husband goodbye, and headed to the coffee shop.

The Gift of Friendship

That morning, for the first of many times, running gave me the gift of friendship.

Just like the running itself, the friendships took miles of time and effort to develop and progress. There’s something special about relationships built on running.

Smiling women runners

Hot Chocolate 15k 2016 with my DMRTT crew – freezing and bonding!

Yes, there’s the time spent together, stepping in unison while facing ahead rather than toward one another. There’s the kind of closeness forged by chasing a shared goal: seeing and supporting in struggle, celebrating wins small and large.

The Magic of Running Friendship

To me, though, the true magic in running friendships comes from the dual nature of the sport. Runners have a deep and lived understanding of the importance of embracing both/and.

We run to experience the full range of human emotions: from the deepest of lows to the highest of highs. Emotions jumble up against one another, and it’s not always easy to tell where despair bleeds into exhilaration.

Running is painful and glorious. It is the worst and the best.

Women in running clothes lounging in a hallway

AMR Cape Cod Retreat 2019: The Hallway Hussies, my #motherrunner support crew

Runners undertake a race or a challenging workout, and we regret every decision that led us into this moment of hell. We whisper never again while continuing to put one foot in front of the other, lungs and legs bursting. We scream f*** yeah as the watch buzzes to indicate recovery, as we cross that finish line. And immediately sign up for the next opportunity to commingle suffering and glory.

I remember bringing my oldest home from the hospital, desperately rocking a screaming infant, deeply regretting every decision that led my husband and me into this moment of hell. Then, suddenly, despair bled into exhilaration as she snuggled in and I once again marveled at the miracle of life.

Joy over Enjoyment

Runners understand the fallacy behind enjoy every moment. We recognize there is joy to be found in every moment, but we know something “doesn’t have to be fun to be fun,” as Dimity advised me before my first marathon.

A group of strong women

Our friendships make each other stronger, through the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and everything in between.

Of course this understanding isn’t exclusive to runners; however, I never feel like I have to caveat complaints to my running friends. I can expose the ugliest parts of myself (and I’m not talking about snot rockets or what happens to my face in that final mile), from my most serious to my most trivial struggles. And I know that they know this is momentary, that there is gratitude and joy and shining happiness woven into those moments as well.

I love everything running has given me: a strong body, physical and mental persistence, the tools to turn failure into success. I am most grateful, however, for the gift of friendship running has given me.