I went running with some friends this morning. Very good friends, I must add, but also very FAST friends, in regards to running. The long list of races ranging from 5K to Marathon distance with countless overall and age group awards, as well as, highly respectable times and personal records on each of their “running resumes” would be intimidating to most if these runners cared to brag; but they don’t.
You know what else they do not care about today? Their pace.
Truth be told, there are times I hesitate to accept their invite to run. Or simply shy away completely. I am not a “fast” runner. I have, at times, impressed myself with a randomly strong training run or a personally stellar race performance; but, for the most part, I continue (year after running year) as a simply “average, middle of the pack runner”.
To blame this on my busy work schedule or whatever else is an invalid excuse. Both of these friends, also, work fulltime and juggle multiple personal/family responsibilities/obligations. Yet, here we are today, 8am on a Saturday morning, when all of our schedules aligned, ready to run some miles.
Friend #1- (currently training for another loop through this year’s Pittsburgh Marathon) says, “I need 16 miles today.”
Friend #2- (not currently training for anything in particular) states, “I just want some time on my feet.”
And so we run.
I have definitely been running (current run streak of 101 days) but I have not been paying any attention to my pace and have not done any organized speed training. I have not done any significantly long runs either, so 16 miles was definitely not a thought that I would entertain. I told him I’m good for up to 10 miles but was honestly feeling more like 6-8. He informs us that he had arrived early this morning to our meeting point and had already logged 4 miles before we ran together. He states he “went out way too fast” on them too so he was happy that we were now here to keep him in check for the next 12 miles. (My mind was thinking: “Oh good, so hopefully you burned off some of that energy and super fast pace so you don’t crush me today!”) The conversation is easy as we set out on the road. The first 2-3 miles of our run was on a very long gradual incline before turning around and running back down it. As the road flattened out before us, the conversations and observations continued and, although they would sometimes get pretty far ahead of me, they always circled back around without any hint of frustration or impatience; only words of encouragement or further topics for conversation. As the miles ticked away, my legs started to feel heavy. The fact that I went out and ran for an hour last night (and a bit faster than normal) did not help. As we approached Mile 8, according to my watch, I started to plan my “escape” back to my Jeep.
We came up to an intersection and Friend #1 calls out: “Turn Left.”
Friend #1: “Yeah, just for a little bit. I’ve got about 3 miles left to go.”
Me: “How about you go left, I’ll go right, and you can speed up, catching back up to me by the cemetery?”
Friend #1: “No, no no. You’re doing good, just turn left and run a little while longer. Please? Please help me?”
PLEASE HELP ME???
I turned left.
And it occurred to me. Yeah, sure, these guys run faster than me. They can smoke me in any race. Yet, when it comes to running the miles, mundanely doing the work, sometimes we all need a litte help. Or at least some company along the way so we don’t have to go it alone; someone to run beside us, mile after mile, and share in this magical misery that we, as runners, have come to love. And suddenly my pace no longer mattered even in my own mind. What mattered is that we ran beside our friend and finished his miles so he did not have to run it alone.
Back at our cars, the run completely done, he thanks me for sticking it out. I ran several miles further than I had planned to; and nearly 3-miles further than I thought I physically could for today. Again it strikes me that our limits truly are self-imposed and the words of my most favorite quote echo on in my mind:
No matter what our position is: fast, slow, “middle of the pack”.
No matter what our goal: length of distance or speed of pace.
We’re all in this together.
Start Line to Finish Line and all the miles in between.
There will be times when each and every one of us can help the other. Whether running to win, pushing for pace, or simply going the distance, we are all RUNNERS and, with friends like these, we don’t ever have to go it alone.