February 14 may be reserved for romance, but in the name of Leslie Knope, on February 13— Galentine’s Day—we stop to honor our female friendships. And the bonds between women runners, forged by hundreds of miles and countless embarrassing bathroom stories, deserve celebration.
For the uninitiated, Galentine’s Day originated with a 2010 episode of Parks and Recreation. The day before Valentine’s, over a boozy brunch with her closest gal pals, our shero Leslie Knope explains: “Every February 13, my lady friends and I leave our husbands and our boyfriends at home, and we just come and kick it, breakfast-style. Ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas.”
Waffles? Breakfast cocktails? Girlfriends? It’s a holiday that seems made for runners. You needn’t live in Pawnee, Indiana, nor create a needlepoint pillow of your bestie’s face to get into the spirit, either. Galentine’s Day has become a time to recognize how our closest friendships sustain us, stabilize us, and help us navigate an ever-turbulent world.
Our ride-or-die running pals also get us out the door, cheer us on during the most grueling workouts, empathize with the heartache of PRs missed, and are the first to pop the champagne when we cross the finish line in victory. No topic is off limits when we’re grinding out the miles, side-by-side in the pre-dawn hours—poop and periods, grief and love, politics and pregnancy, pancakes or eggs, we can solve all the problems together in 20 miles or less.
The past year has tested our bonds, but many women are emerging from the pandemic with greater appreciation for the role that our running buddies play in our lives. We’re all looking forward to the day when we’re together again for weekend long runs and extended recovery brunches. Until then, we celebrate our ladies from six feet apart, with masks on.
We asked women all across the country about their running Galentines, how the pandemic has affected their friendships, and how they’ll honor or celebrate their training partners this year. We hope they inspire you to reach out to your running buddies, too, and share the love.
Here’s to all the running Galentines. And always remember: “Ovaries before brovaries.” And, of course, “uteruses before duderusus.”
The Big Sister
Their moms met in a book club many years ago, both new to the Philadelphia suburbs and drawn to each other through shared Boston accents in a new city, due south. Their daughters, Catherine Renehan and Kara Brennan, were only a few years apart in age, but Renehan was just old enough to babysit Brennan and her brothers. Little did they know that three decades later, they’d be best running friends back in Boston, seeking their places on that prestigious starting line in Hopkinton.
“She is still the big sister I never had,” Brennan, 35, says.
Renehan commiserates about training through those rough New England winters; she’ll listen to the details about every Saturday long run for four months straight. And when Brennan ran into scheduling problems with her training group and had to do her first 20 miler all on her own, it was Renehan who showed up to support her.
“As I was running through Brookline I looked up and saw Catherine parked on the side of the road,” Brennan says. “She had crushed her 20-miler the day before and decided to spend her Sunday driving around the course handing me water and snacks as I did mine.”
The past year has hindered their hang-out time, but they’ve still found ways to stay connected—and a Leslie Knope card is on its way to Renehan, Brennan says.
“During COVID, our socializing has been limited to sitting around outside or going on walks with her daughter (a quarantine baby born last spring) and my dog,” Brennan says, adding, “She is selfless and kind and always goes the extra mile, literally or figuratively, for her friends.”
The Trials and the Miles
When Cate Barrett, 31, wanted to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials, she put that goal out there on Instagram in 2017, hoping that she’d find a training partner to share the workload. Sarah Rimel was game—neither had coaches or a training group, though it took about two years before their schedules really matched.
Rimel was just a few months postpartum when they dove into serious preparation for the race.
“I used to get annoyed that she’d rush through water breaks, until she reminded me she had an infant back home to breastfeed,” Barrett says. “Oh right…I was in a very ‘all-in’ phase of running that year, so it just blew my mind that someone could have such another big focus going on and still show up and be so dedicated, positive, and supportive of me, too.”
When February 29, 2020, arrived, the day of the Trials in Atlanta, they had different goals. Rimel saw the race as a celebration of her qualification while Barrett wanted to chase the highest ranking in the field she could. But the brutally hilly and windy course took a toll, and eventually Rimel caught up to Barrett.
“Instead of passing me (as she was fully capable), she pulled me through the whole last agonizing loop,” Barrett says. “All the way to the finish, she didn’t leave me, and she didn’t let up her steady stream of encouragement. I don’t know what I would have done without her. Probably walked and cried. The race still sucked for me, but Sarah was the saving grace.”
And when Barrett became pregnant in May, Rimel was the first friend she told. Rimel, in turn, was the first to show up in January with a home-cooked meal when Barrett and her family got home from the hospital.
“She’s loved me like a sister, and this is probably the phase of our friendship that has meant the most to me,” Barrett says. “Of course, I’m itching to get back on the roads to run with her again so we can pick up where we left off.”
Long Runs and Long Talks
It started out with a little trash-talking for Alexandria Williams and Daisha Williams.
“She’s a huge Eagles fan and I’m a die-hard Cowboys fan,” Alexandria says.
But eventually the friendship went much deeper, as they tend to do when you talk for hours at 5 a.m. and continue the conversation for a couple more over brunch.
“We both are trustful, honest, and have similar family dynamics,” says Alexandria, 37, of Silver Spring, Maryland. “The pandemic brought us so much closer and was a blessing.”
The duo spends a lot of time talking over weekly video conferences during COVID-19 times. Alexandria hasn’t traditionally celebrated Galentine’s Day but has gotten in the spirit this year, sending Daisha and her daughter a few running-themed surprises in the mail.
“I try to show care and love a bit more with her and close friends,” Alexandria says.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Alexandria helped plan Daisha’s virtual 40th birthday, too. With 150 people in attendance, a live DJ, specialty drink, and even digital security, “everyone said it felt like we were at the club!”
Through the ups and downs of a difficult year, it’s been Daisha who’s served as a stabilizing force, even if they couldn’t share many in-person miles together.
“When I moved to Maryland in September of last year, she was accommodating with some logistics,” Alexandria says. “It was the first time I lived outside of my home state, so I experienced a series of family changes and grief. With both of us losing our mothers at an early age, it was helpful to have someone encouraging, yet comforted me each day.”
Motherhood and Ultra Miles
Finding the time for ultra-marathon training amid careers and raising children is no easy task, but it’s often made just a little more manageable when you find training partners in the same boat. For Jennifer Matthews, 47, of Carlsbad, California, meeting Taina Tuluie, 52, in the bathroom before the start of a race seven years ago has been life-altering.
Matthews has one son and Tuluie is a mother of two girls in Encinitas, California. It started out with Tuesday meetups at 5:30 a.m., on a quest to improve their marathon times. Each week they ascended 1,600 feet up Double Peak to improve their mental and physical strength.
“Long miles and mutual suffering faded away as we shared our lives, fears, disappointments, secrets, recipes, and became each other’s most fervent cheerleaders,” Matthews says.
It’s also not always easy for busy women to forge new friendships in midlife, but running has proven a way to find each other.
“To meet another human who has experienced my struggles as a mother and a daughter and shares my passions as a runner is a gift,” Matthews says. “That woman turned out to be Tania…there is no competition, no jealousy, just lots of hills, long miles, and profound gratitude.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Galentines took a break from their weekly hill ritual, but as the months dragged on they found safe ways to connect again, along with a few other friends who rely on the bonds of their running group.
“Most working and running mothers are absolutely amazing humans,” Matthews says. “We are an introvert-trending band of over-extended women trying to find time to achieve our personal goals of fitness and sanity by using races as a waypoint through life’s daily chaos.”
Frontlines and Finish Lines
The pandemic was especially difficult for Lisa Braden and Lauren Pratt to navigate, but the friends from Norman, Oklahoma (and their group of women runners) have never needed each other more—for empathy, support, and humor, too.
“Lauren is the only person in my 20 years of running that has made me nearly pee my pants from laughter on a run,” Braden says. “Don’t worry—I paused my watch.”
Pratt works up to 50 hours a week as a physician’s assistant at the local hospital, serving primarily COVID-19 patients. Needless to say, the past 11 months have been challenging.
“If we missed a run together or we saw her running solo this year, I can guarantee it was because she was getting her miles in by herself, because she was exposed and quarantined more times than I can count,” Braden says.
Still, it’s Pratt who signs up without hesitation for Braden’s crazy ideas, like trying to train for a Boston Marathon qualifier in just eight weeks. They put in the 50 or more miles a week at 5 a.m. each day, “before life, kids, and work.”
Their running group includes seasoned moms, new moms, empty nesters, and more. They share guidance and wisdom about parenting and beyond, swap baby items, and talk about things that rarely are broached in the light of day.
“As humans we are hard-wired for community and support systems and there is no greater support system than the ones you find with the right group of runners,” Braden says.
As more of the group receives the COVID vaccination, they’re dreaming of trips to run races again. In the meantime, they’ve also navigated the worst of the pandemic together.
“Each one of us has had various scares or positive tests along the way,” Braden says. “There have been dinners delivered, broth made, flowers, text message check-ins, and drive-by waves.”
If 2020 and the beginning of 2021 have shown us nothing else, it’s that we need each other.
“My running people are my people,” Braden says. “They have shown up in ways for me and each other that I can’t quantify or put into words. They brought me out of bad situations and have made me better in every way.”
Leslie Knope was right. That’s something worth celebrating. From Women’s Running, a happy Galentine’s Day, lady friends.