Published: August 14, 2014
My husband won't talk to me when we run. Me, I need to carry on a conversation from the minute I start running to the minute I stop. The chitchat helps me forget the misery of the task at hand. But more than that, when I run alone, my mind will bully me into slowing down or stopping. When I run with other people, my mind won't dare speak up - and I wind up running longer and faster than when I run alone.
With that in mind, I joined a local running club and posted a message on Facebook saying I was looking for running mates. "I ain't fast, but I ain't that slow, either," I wrote. Within hours, two women responded.
For weeks now, I've been running with Susanne and Tina, though Tina knows so many runners, we'll often have a third or fourth woman tag along. I live by the ocean so we run along the boardwalk, talking all the while, about our kids' accomplishments, our fights with spouses, or about relationships that fell apart before they'd even begun. I feel like I have a gang, a team, mates.
They've also helped my speed and endurance. For years, my usual run has been just over three miles, at a rate of about 11:30 a mile. On my first outing with my new running mates, I ran four miles at an 11-minute-mile pace. On our second, I ran nearly 4.5 miles, at a pace of about 10:30 a mile. I was delighted. My inner voice could no longer hold me back, mostly because I was no longer listening.
But running with others, I soon learned, can have its downsides too. One rainy morning recently, I thought about skipping my run. But I'd skipped one the week before, also because of rain. Tina had wound up going that day and said the rain held off and that it was a beautiful run.
So I put on a waterproof running jacket, which made a swishing noise as the sleeves brushed against my torso. I liked the sound. I felt like a real runner. I was going out in the rain, something I would never have done alone.
I called out to my husband: "See you later. I'm running with the big dogs. I've got a gang now, you know." I could hear the song from the recent Lego movie in my head: "Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when we're part of a team."
When I arrived at the coffee shop where we usually meet, Tina was already there with another runner. I'd messaged her the night before, asking whether the new runner was a Speedy Gonzales.
"I don't understand," she'd texted back.
I initially thought she didn't understand my reference. I'm more than a decade older than she is, and when I saw her at the coffee shop tried to explain who Speedy Gonzales was.
"I know who he is," she said. "I'm just tired of people complaining about how slow they are."
The other woman chimed in that she was slow, though I wasn't sure I believed her. She'd just come from swimming laps at the local pool. I'd just come from my bed.
As we started to run, Tina asked her how her Triple-T training was going.
"What's a Triple-C?" I asked.
"Triple-T - it's four races in one weekend," the woman replied. Her idea of slow was certainly very different from mine.
The last thing I remember hearing before they began to pull ahead was something about how the woman's husband was annoyed about how much she'd been training. I tried to keep up with them, but no matter how fast I went, they were always several lengths ahead of me, and the gap kept widening.
That's cold, I thought. Only in running - or junior high school - is it acceptable to just "leave someone flat." I kept thinking if Tina turns around and sees how far behind I am, she'll never run with me again.
I'd done this run many times, but this time, as I trailed behind the other two runners in the pelting rain, it felt harder than ever. I finally caught up to them when I reached a drawbridge to a neighboring town. "They waited for me," I thought, relieved.
"We stopped to take a photo," Tina told me. "You going to keep going? We're heading back."
I followed their lead. The wind was now at our backs, propelling me forward and enabling me to keep up with them, though it was a struggle. I couldn't speak, and could barely keep up with the conversation. At one point, I thought they were talking about leukemia but realized they were discussing tattoos.
When we got back to the coffee shop, Tina asked if I was walking home, as we both live in town, but I said I took my car.
"You drove?" she asked.
"I was running late," I said.
We still run together, though not as much. Tina no doubt realized I was slowing her down. But I realized something as well. I never would have done it on my own. Even though I felt left out during our run, a little ashamed and embarrassed even, I kept going. Since then I've been running farther and faster, morning after morning, even in the rain. And when the little voice in my head tries to say, "Stop! I can't go any farther!" I can now say, "Um, actually, I can."