Some things are better done with a partner like back scratching, moving furniture, potty training, eating a pan of brownies and taking young children to the doctor for vaccinations.
Some would argue that running is also done better with a partner.
I’m not one of them. I am a solo runner. A party of one. Free to be me.
I have never run a race with a friend, nor have I ever really wanted to. Sometimes I think it would be nice to wallow in my misery with a running mate, but the trade-offs are too great for me.
During the week, my time and my workouts are centered around the needs of others. While I would prefer to run outside in the cool of the morning, most of my runs are done in our basement on a treadmill since I have two young children who, if left to their own devices, would surely bring down the overall value of our home with their destructive capabilities. My schedule revolves around their school, track practices, doctor appointments, dental appointments, meals and potty schedules. I’m not complaining. It’s just my reality.
My workouts at the gym are centered around the needs of the members who make an effort to come to my classes. Just because I have an injury or a race coming up doesn’t mean that their workouts need to suffer. Again, I’m not complaining. I get great joy from seeing the progress many of these dedicated members have made and it’s satisfying to know that I had a small part in their success.
But after a week of working with and for others, I need some alone time. So I run. I have selfishly claimed Saturday morning as mine. My husband has expressed an interest in running a marathon. I told him that was fine, but it was up to him to find a babysitter. If he wants to remember me as the happy, fun-loving wife he fell for, it’s in everyone’s best interest to leave me my weekend long runs.
I love the freedom that comes from running alone. I love that my pace depends only on the power of my legs and how much sleep I had the night before. I am in charge. I am in control. I like control. Shocking, I know.
I have always been a solo kind of gal. I crave quiet time alone. I’m no hermit, but I don’t cringe at the thought of a Saturday night at home alone with nothing more than my thoughts and a bowl of Rocky Road. Those days are rare anymore. Running is my only guaranteed me-time. The kids are just too small to chase me!
Recently, however, I’ve begun to change my perspective. Earlier this year, I did a couple long runs with a friend who was also training for the Boston Marathon. I figured we would run together for a little while, and then, when we ran out of things to talk about, we’d plug in our iPods and part ways. Twenty miles later, we were still talking. In fact, we would probably still be talking in the parking lot if my husband hadn’t reminded me that we pay the babysitter by the hour.
I left that run feeling exhilarated more than exhausted, so we made another date for another 20-miler. I found myself actually looking forward to the run itself rather than the completion of the run.
This last week I ran the Ogden Marathon. It’s the second of seven and it’s one I didn’t need to race. I had signed up for it thinking it would be part of the Utah Grand Slam, only to find out, it wasn’t. Rather than waste my entry fee, I made the decision to run this one for fun.
If you’ve read my past articles on competition, or if you’ve known me for more than five minutes, you will know that it is very difficult to reign in my competitive spirit. I’m not sure I know how to take anything “easy.” I needed help. I needed accountability. I needed a running partner. So I enlisted my friend Marie to teach me how to have fun.
Marie loves marathons as much as I do, but she truly enjoys her runs. She is a strong runner with strong goals, but she also runs with balance. She often carries a camera and is smiling from beginning to end. If anyone could help me run for fun, it would be Marie.
I had a few concerns: our paces are very different; we were running a long way; would we run out of things to talk about?; would I bore her to tears? and would I be the cause of much of her pain?
I had nothing to be afraid of. Ready for this? I had fun.
I was loving my experience so much that I felt like Julie Andrews singing on a mountain top, literally!
For 16 miles, as we wound our way down the canyon, we shared stories, thoughts, opinions and observations on everything from running to raising kids. It was as though the motion of our legs released a river of conversation. We don’t get to see each other as often as we’d like and this was our chance to catch up without constraints. There was a moment around Mile 10 when I actually took in the majestic mountain views as we ran shoulder to shoulder and my heart literally jumped for joy.
We parted ways shortly before Mile 17. A marathon is a long road where anything can, and will, happen. Marie was struggling with some stomach issues, a struggle that is best dealt with alone. So, I wished Marie well, pulled up some One Republic on the iPod and ran ahead to finish the last nine miles alone. I must admit, those last few miles felt twice as long as the previous 16. It was no longer a fun run. It was a race.
I was able to recapture some of the joy as I reached the finish line. My two little girls were there waiting with their sneakers and running shorts and, for the first time, ran across the finish line with me. Best finish ever!
Not long after my race was finished, I ran the Kids K with my 4-year-old. As we ran, that river of words flowed again. I told her my favorite part of the day was crossing the marathon finish line with her and her sister. With her little legs charging ahead, she said, “My favorite part of today is now. Running with you.” Again, my heart jumped for joy clear into my throat. She sprinted across the finish line and straight into my arms. My 7-year-old was there waiting for us with her own finishing medal. She joined in for a “Mommy Sandwich.”
It was at that moment I realized that while I find my center and peace of mind while running solo, I find love, happiness and joy when I run with those who mean most to me. Whether it’s running the B.A.A. 5K with my husband, a 20-mile training run with my friend, Heather, 16 miles of a marathon course with Marie or the Kids K with my girls, it’s those shared runs that bring a smile to my face.
I’ll take those memories over a medal any day.
Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner. Her next race is the Utah Valley Marathon where her running partners will all be in her head.