The first thing I noticed about Boston was the runners. It was the summer of 2010, and I was visiting the city to meet my soon-to-be roommate and to find an apartment. We would both be moving to the area that fall to attend school, her to finish up her Bachelor’s degree, and me to pursue my MFA in creative writing. I’d completed my first marathon a couple months earlier, and while the thought of 26.2 miles made my legs and feet ache all over again, I still loved running. All the runners made me long for my Nikes. I knew I would fit right in.
I moved to Boston from Fargo, North Dakota. Yes, like the movie. And no, we don’t talk like that, at least not all of us. Or, not all the time. Anyway, running in Fargo is often a solitary pursuit. You can cover five miles and not even see a moving vehicle, much less another person, or a runner, or a bird. Especially if it’s winter, which is precisely the time of year I decided to start training for my first marathon.
I had done a half marathon in the fall of 2009 and a 5k in the spring of the same year, so I still considered myself a newbie when it came to running. To get me through the scary thought of training for a marathon, not to mention running a marathon, I joined a training group. The Fargo Marathon takes place each year in May, usually about three weeks in. That means training starts during the coldest, most dismal month of the year—January. The training group was organized by one of the local running stores, the Dick Beardsley Running Company (now called The Fargo Running Company), and was set up so that we would do long runs on Saturdays as a group. I was a nervous mess before the first long run as I sat in the gym of the downtown YMCA, watching the other runners walk into the gym, hoping to recognize someone from my half marathon training group. Once everyone appeared to be there, the coaches divided us into two groups, half and full marathon training. I knew no one and felt not only alone, but like I was out of my league.
Then I proceeded to have what I now like to call Rocky Running Moments. Remember in Rocky IV, the one where he fights Ivan Drago, when he goes through all that grueling training in a shack surrounded by miles and miles of snow somewhere in Russia? Yeah, that’s basically what January in North Dakota looks like. Anyway, so a Rocky Running Moment is one where the elements are against you, but you muscle through the run (or workout) anyway.
For the first long run of marathon training, we were to cover seven miles. We had been told that we would meet for long runs, rain or shine. After all, it could rain on race day. Or, since this was North Dakota, it could snow on race day (Yes, even in May). On that day in late January, the weather was raining and snowing at the same time. This made all the snow that was already on the ground slushy while adding additional precipitation to the puddles that had been previously frozen the day before. The sun hadn’t risen yet (it was 6:30 in the morning), so it was hard to see the puddles and avoid them. I gave up about ten minutes into the run and just sloshed through them and pretended they weren’t freezing. So, dark, cold, and wet were the conditions. Gross. BUT, the feeling after was unlike anything else. I felt like I had run up that snowy mountain right alongside Sylvester Stallone. I felt empowered.
There are many reasons that people choose to run marathons—to get in better shape, to cross another item off their bucket list, to prove something to themselves, the list goes on and on. There was no one reason why I decided to run a marathon, but the biggest reason and the one that got me through all the harsh training days that were to follow that first long run, was desperation. A guy had broken my heart, and all I could think was, “Maybe if I run a marathon, he’ll want me back.”
I’ll elaborate on that in future posts, but let’s get back to Rocky for now. Running can be a solitary, and painful, pursuit, but there’s a camaraderie to it. This camaraderie can take many shapes—running partners, coaches, other runners. There’s nothing to make you feel like part of a group than another runner suffering through the same hills, weather, wind, etc. Ideally, that other runner would be someone willing to run with you. I’ve acquired a solid handful of running partners over the few years I’ve been running. I have a few female friends that I run with regularly, but I’ve also had a few guys I’ve run with. Not to knock on my ladies, but I prefer male running partners because they make me run faster than I would on my own. When I run alone, I have a pace that works for me and doesn’t require too much of my cardiovascular system. Since most men run faster than women, running with a guy forces me to run faster, which is my ultimate goal. Actually, my ultimate goal is to qualify to run the Boston Marathon, which in turn requires me to be a faster runner.
There are other kinds of camaraderie among runners though. Sometimes just seeing another runner is enough. When I see another runner approaching me, I try to make eye contact and smile or wave. I like to imagine we’re both thinking the same thing, “This sucks.” I also like to think that we’re also trying to envision how good we are going to feel when we’re done running. One time, I was running along the Charles River and was approaching a man who I seemed to be running faster than, but I couldn’t seem to pass him. We ended up putting our iPods on pause and kept the same pace for a solid mile while chatting about the races for which we were training. I was toward the end of my run and approaching the turn to take me the two-ish miles back to my house while he was gearing up for another bridge loop and another ungodly number of miles, something like ten or twelve. After we split, I realized that he had, indeed, been running much faster than I was. He had me clocking an eight minute mile, much faster than my 9:15 comfort zone pace.
So, here’s the last word. Boston is full of runners, get out there and find one. Misery loves company. Grab a friend, lace up your sneaks, and pound some pavement. Or, just find a bunch of your friends who are willing to pile into a horse cart so you can press it above your head in a dramatically victorious moment.