Why are my running friends the ones I get close to most easily? Why do I feel they know the “real me” better than my other friends? Why am I so at ease with them? Why are my running friendships the ones that have endured, some of them for over three decades?
Why is it so easy to feel close to other runners? Is it the simplicity of running itself? We are united by a shared love of that rhythmical motion, the times when every part of body and breath are in harmony within oneself and with the surrounding environment. We share the sense of peace and exhilaration that comes from experiencing ourselves as animals, immersed in the sensory world of sun or biting wind or gentle breeze, the tang of ocean or spiciness of pine forest, the richness of mouldering leaves and earth after rain.
We are united in the fellowship of racing, where there is no faking anything. Everyone runs the same course, feels the same weather, absorbs whatever else catches their attention beyond the pain and effort of racing—aid stations, music bands, screaming spectators, and finally, the welcome sight of the finish line. Fast or slow, if we are competitors, we have a goal. Some of us want to win, some of us want to place in our age group, some of us want to set a PB, some of us want to finish without walking.
Sometimes we meet our goals and sometimes we don’t. We’ve all experienced the emotions of joy, exhilaration, pride—and the other side of the coin—disappointment, despair, anger, frustration about injuries or accidents. Sometimes we feel invincible, and other times we’re humbled by our weakness and vulnerability.
We celebrate each other’s victories and commiserate about each other’s trials.
Running friends share memories
Are my closest friends my running friends simply because running has been such a big part of my life for over 35 years? With running friends, you never have to schedule spending time together—you always show up at workouts, that’s all. But you bond even more with those friends you race with, especially when you travel together to special races or meets. By sharing meals, hotel rooms, and competing as a team (whether it’s a school, club, provincial or national team) you strengthen your friendships as you forge indelible memories.
My oldest running friends and I share many memories. We may see them through the rosy haze of nostalgia now, as we remember the everyday workouts we used to do when we were young, and shake our heads in amazement. We share our memories of George and other teachers and coaches who believed in us.
Running is playing
Are my running friends my closest friends because running is a kind of play? Even adults want to spend their time with friends in some version of play. Work friends can’t be the same because our goals at work may not be goals of our own choosing. We have to do our best for “the team” whether we believe in the team’s mission or whether we like our fellow team members or not. At work we have to look good and be on our best behaviour. That might inhibit relaxation and joking around (since most jokes are “politically incorrect” now). At work, it is probably too risky to reveal our inner selves, with all our doubts, mood swings, and wild hopeful dreams.
Running camaraderie is easy. I was an athlete for so long that I’m very comfortable in that role. But now I’m itching to fit into a new role as a writer and an editor, and it’s hard to find a similar camaraderie in the writing community. It was easy when I was at Douglas College from 2009–2011 as a Print Futures student. It was a privilege to interact every day with others who shared my love of writing and reading, and it mattered little that the majority of the students in the program were in their twenties, though our ages ranged from teenagers to 50+.
But it’s strange to be embarking on a career as a writer and editor when my age and personality should mean I’m a leader and a mentor, not a beginner. My inexperience makes it harder for me to be seen as a colleague by people my own age, and for me to develop closer friendships with them.
Sometimes I regret not making different choices when I was in my twenties or thirties. Maybe if I had, I’d be a technical writer at a big bank by now, or (more likely) an English Lit professor at a university. Instead, by choosing to keep running as the main focus of my life (while doing part-time work on my own), I never learned how to take on a mature role in a corporate or academic environment.
I’ve dipped my toes into the ocean of various writers’ environments over the past few years—corporate business settings, writers’ festivals and conferences, and professional development workshops. But I still feel a bit like a fish out of water.
Running and writing connect in blogging
One of the hardest things to accept about my ACL rupture and the subsequent degeneration of my knee was losing, for the most part, my participation in the running community. But I’m grateful for the way this blog has allowed me to express both the “running” and “writing” sides of myself. My blog has also connected me with people I used to run with in high school and university, most of whom I hadn’t heard from for decades. In addition, I’ve heard from people I never knew personally, but who remember trying to beat me in Toronto road races. I recently got an email from a New Zealander who was a fellow competitor in the Seoul Olympics, but as a speed cyclist. He found my blog through my Olympic memento photos.
One of the rewards of blogging is the random and sometimes wonderful encounters you have with fellow writers who are strangers. I recently discovered two great blogs (view BottledWorder here and BrainPickings here) by following friends’ links on a whim.
However, despite the immense potential of online communication (where geography and expense are nonexistent), nothing replaces being with someone in real life. When I call someone my “running friend,” it means I’ve actually run with them. We truly “meet” someone when we’re in their physical presence. Psychologists can’t possibly explain all the nuances of body language. The chemistry that can spark from a single glance—when two pairs of eyelids lift and let the other person in—will always be a mystery.
This blog post is written as a big thank-you to all my running friends. And I couldn’t possibly name them all in the photos above. My life has been enriched immeasurably not only by my running friends, but by so many others I’ve encountered in the running community—race directors, volunteers, coaches, sportswriters and announcers, and, of course, my competitors. I’ve had the privilege of meeting people who’ve been outstanding examples of all these roles, and to them as well I dedicate this post.