Left to my own devices ten years ago, I’m don’t know how long I would have kept going with the whole running thing.
Training by myself, I could run 3 miles by the end of the summer of 2004. I really hadn’t envisioned running beyond that. I didn’t have the urge to run with someone else or to run a race, or accomplish anything beyond running a few miles a few times a week. Which, to me, is one of the great things about running. If you’re a runner, “running” can be whatever you want it to be, and you’re still a runner. You can run by yourself; you can run with a friend; you can run with a group. You don’t have to run any races, or you can run a race every weekend. If you race, you can run 5ks, marathons, or ultra marathons. You can run unpaved trails or you can run as part of a triathlon. You don’t have to fit someone else’s definition of a runner, you just have to run.
But our mutual friend Rebecca invited me for a run with her and Erika. Erika and I worked for the same company but at different locations, so we didn’t know each other well. I was super intimidated about running with Erika who was, in my opinion, an actual “runner.” She wasn’t just someone like me who ran a few miles in her neighborhood, but someone who had finished several half marathons. At the time, I thought people who ran that kind of distance were more than a little crazy.
But when we ran together, she didn’t seem too crazy and suggested we sign up for a 5k. I picked our first 5k, the Christie Cookie 5k organized by Nashville’s Green Hills YMCA. I have to confess that the ONLY reason I picked that particular 5k was because I hoped free Christie Cookies (which I love) were involved.
So I ran my first 5k and ate a bunch of delicious cookies. From what I remember, there was also gelato and sausage biscuits. I probably burned about 300 calories and consumed 1000 calories, but it was all good because I ran my first 5k (and, as a bonus, wasn’t anywhere near the last person to finish).
A decade later, we’re still running together. Erika comes from an athletic background. Her father was a 2 sport Olympian and she grew up with older and younger brothers who are very athletic. She is way tougher (and faster) than I am and taught me not to be a whiner. When I first started running, I know I whined a bunch. I was either too hot or I was too cold. I was tired or I had to go to the bathroom. My feet hurt, my legs hurt, my hips hurt, or my back hurt. After awhile, I got over most of that. But Erika still keeps me honest because she knows when I’ve worked hard, and when I haven’t. We have shared so many running experiences together that we’ve developed a kind of shorthand to describe them. Such as, “Oh right, that was the run where the cyclist almost ran us over.”
We’ve gotten to know each other’s families and pets. When Richard was listed for transplant, she met me for out-and-back runs close to my house so that if Richard got “the call”, I’d be able to get home in time to drive him to the hospital quickly. After all this time, she isn’t just a running friend, she’s one of my best friends.
Erika, it’s been 10 years and I owe you a whole bunch. On my own, I doubt I would still be running 10 years later. Without your friendship, your companionship and your encouragement, this whole decade long adventure never would have happened. So thank you (and I hope your plantar fasciitis gets better soon so we can get back out running together).