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If you’re a runner, you can probably relate to the instant connection you feel when you meet another runner. Even when you meet someone who “just runs” (psst–they’re still a runner!), there’s an almost instant bond. You may talk about gear, pacing, races, fuel–all of which can be unifying topics.
The thing is, if you’re a runner, you have probably also experienced countless, independent, isolating hours on the road. Sometimes that personal space to think is necessary and appreciated, but other times the monotony and loneliness of running can feel like a reason to quit. During particularly challenging runs, even just a small head nod or moment of eye contact with another runner makes me feel more confident and connected.
After training for my first half marathon by myself, I started to wonder how my experience might be different if I could translate the bond and connection I felt when I was talking about running to my actual running experience.
For my next race, I joined a team and became a Girls on the Run Greater Boston SoleMate. Our team met for monthly long runs and brunch. Between those meetings, we stayed connected via email. Previously, race training felt boring, draining and obligatory. Now, with my team’s support, I had an electric feeling of accountability and determination. I also had a sense of belonging to a tangible running community. By being part of a team that was working toward a common goal, I gained a reciprocal support network and group of running friends. Sometimes, I’d be cheering along my teammates, while other times they’d be pacing me to the finish line.
After that experience, I knew I was hooked on the perfect balance of extroversion and exertion that group running provided. I now do my best to maintain this practice between race seasons, when I’m traveling and in my volunteer work.
I use social media to connect with other runners–including those who, like me, are also writers. Writing about running helped me develop a personal relationship with this sport. I’ve gained motivation, insider tricks and some new running friends. Social media is a great outlet for me to share my experiences and stay in touch with running pals who don’t live nearby. I can keep my friends updated on my running adventures and also hold myself accountable by logging my runs through an app or posting post-run selfies.
Finding the perfect running buddy is like receiving a gift I didn’t even realize I wanted or needed. When I found someone who pushed me to reach my goals and was understanding when I needed to slow down, my experience with running changed. I have a lot of friends who adamantly protest against running with other people. For me, finding the “right” other person was crucial.
Having a running buddy keeps me accountable. If I’m committed to running with someone, I’m more likely to show up. Similarly, if my running buddy and I make plans to tackle a long run together, I’ll prioritize my mid-week training so I can be strong for the run. Running with a friend takes the meaning behind “conversational pace” to an entirely new level. I can recall runs where we talked about novels, relationships and friend drama. Having a running buddy I can trust makes all the difference.
Relay-Style Long Runs
I am a distance runner, but most of my friends are not–and that’s okay. One strategy I’ve found really helpful (especially during the bitter cold months of marathon training) is to coordinate relays with multiple people to conquer long runs with companionship–even if you don’t have friends who can complete the whole distance with you. For example, with a little planning and accountability, I was able to run 9 miles with five different running buddies on a Saturday morning. Each person in the relay had a time slot of 30 to 40 minutes, during which they simply had to run at their own pace. When one person’s time slot was over, the next person jumped in. It was great to have different conversations and types of encouragement along the way. When I wanted to quit, I remembered that someone else was coming soon. Knowing that everyone was invested in me and my training motivated me to keep running the entire time. Similarly, I’ve coordinated runs where I’ve “picked up” my friends in the middle of my route. Friends who can’t run as long or as far have joined for small portions of my runs, which gives me the personal space I want and the support I need to stay strong during the middle slump of a long run.
Mentoring Younger Runners
I’ve taken my running community to an entirely new level by mentoring young runners. One example of this is volunteering as a Sparkle Runner with Girls on the Run for its biannual 5Ks in Providence and Boston. During the run, we tap into the strategies and skills the girls learn during their program to confidently complete the 5K. This year, I am also mentoring high school students and training to run the Providence Marathon with Dreamfar High School Marathon. As a Dreamfar mentor, I help cultivate a judgment-free, non-competitive environment in which students can test their physical, social and emotional limits. I primarily decided to become a Dreamfar mentor because I know how incredible it feels to achieve a goal that at first seems impossible. The teens gain skills in goal setting, confidence, teamwork and commitment during the six-month Dreamfar season. As our mileage increases and we log more hours together on the Boston Marathon course, I know that there is so much more that’s keeping me connected to this organization. Our teamwork is often palpable: the students encourage me on the course as much as I motivate them.
There are so many ways to integrate running and socializing that make the running community unique and diverse. Feeling like I’m part of something bigger than myself is an important motivator and source of inspiration for me to get involved and stay committed. Running is the same way. Actress Amanda Brooks said it perfectly: “We may run alone, but the community we connect to through running is a large part of what keeps us coming back.” I urge you to grab your shoes, grab your friends and hit the road!