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A Marathon Friendship Keeps Going Strong

June 8, 2010

Not skirting any issues: My high-school BFF and I running (as depicted by Phoebe, age 8)

 One of my favorite sentences in Run Like a Mother is one Dimity wrote: “Running is conducive to frank, sometimes soul-baring conversations in the same way road trips are: When you keep your eyes on the road, you can speak from your heart.” I was reminded of that sentiment over and over this weekend because I was fortunate enough to be in Maryland promoting the book and getting to run numerous times with my best friend from high school who I’ll call C. She and I hadn’t seen each other in five years, since I was pregnant with my now-almost-kindergarten-age twins. C. is also the mother of a singleton girl, then boy-girl twins. (Nutty, huh?) We went to high school together for just two years and have only lived in the same city (Boston) for two years post-school, yet I still consider her one of my best friends.

Despite not playing organized sports in school (C. and I share a unique athletic distinction: We were the only two girls cut from our school’s lacrosse team!), we’ve always enjoyed running together. Many moons ago, as we finished up a 5-miler in Wellesley, Mass., C. told me, “I love running with you because you can talk the whole way.” Yup, guilty as charged.

For several of our runs this weekend, we fell into our old roles: She asked me a question that she knew would get me going (like, “Tell me about running with John Shea [my ex-hubby] when you were in the Bay Area last month”), and I proceeded to blab for miles. My words flowed as freely as my sweat. Yet I turned our MO on its head as we set out on Sunday for a midday run through charming Annapolis (we were in town promoting RLAM at the ZOOMA race). Instead of letting her ask me questions, I finally asked her a few that had honestly been on my mind for years.

Some history: In the mid-1990s, C. struggled with adult-onset anorexia. Through hard work and a lot of therapy, she’d overcome it but when I’d seen her five years ago, she still had some food issues and didn’t look healthy. I wasn’t sure what to expect when she picked me up at the airport last week. To my great relief and joy, she could not have looked more vibrant, fit, and beautiful. C’s triathlete legs looked strong and powerful. Her shoulders and biceps were enviously buff. At 5′ 9″ she was a healthy size 8.

So on our run on Sunday, I got her talking about some of the hard times. C. can be a very private person, more the question-asker than the detail-sharer, yet as we trotted along brick sidewalks and past quaint Colonial-era homes, she opened up about her struggle. And I was able to tell her how worried I’d been about her over the years, to the point of often dreaming about her. In my nighttime visions, I told her, she always looked as healthy and vibrant as she did in high school. And now, I could see for myself, she looked exactly that way today. It was literally a dream come true for me. I choked up as I told her this, but it was impossible for C. or passersby to tell.

I decided there’s another truism to add to Dimity’s awesome sentence in the Friends chapter of RLAM: “No one can tell if you are moved to tears because they mix with the sweat.”

What painful or sensitive subjects have you broached with friends on runs?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Jessica permalink
    June 8, 2010 6:51 am

    While living in Boston a girlfriend and I worked through the end of her marriage and relocation to Denver, the end of my engagement, and then later a new beau (now husband). I must I am sure there were days that the tears were hidden by sweat, but I can assure you there were days when the tears (both of pain and laughter) were obvious to any passerby! Running alone is necessary, but running with a girlfriend is a gift!!

  2. June 8, 2010 9:20 am

    Love this… I think we all pour our soles into the run.. What is said on the road stays on the road. It is amazing time to bond and try to work through things that normally would not be talked about at Applebees or a baby shower.

  3. Csaf permalink
    June 8, 2010 10:58 am

    I’ve had many a run with a girlfriend where we’ve discussed the pain with (my) struggles with infertility, the joys each time one of us has become pregnant, job woes, and losing beloved pets. All of the above have produced tears — of joy, frustration, sadness and heartache. As a self-acknowledged introvert, I never could have opened up in a face-to-face conversation over a meal. But the distraction and comraderie of running, and the ability to pour my heart out side-by-side with a friend (and sometimes, big sunglasses come in handy, too!), has allowed me to share experiences and feelings that otherwise would remain bottled up inside.

    Hooray for running with our girlfriends!!

  4. June 8, 2010 12:10 pm

    It’s true that the long runs allow for time to talk about deep and meaningful things. For me, though, it’s not only been with my favorite girls, but also a few of my favorite boys; my dear friend S is one of my favorite running partners, and we keep each other both in stitches and in tears on long runs. We talked a great deal in the last year about his relationship with his now ex-boyfriend, and, as the miles flew by, he struggled with the end of that partnership. Our other running partners (L and T, both lovely women) were there for this for him as well—we’ve all always been able to let it ALL hang out, and yes: what is said on the lakefront STAYS on the lakefront.

    Also, we sing. A LOT!

  5. June 8, 2010 12:45 pm

    None of my girlfriends run. I am so sad. Two years ago they went to a spin class with me and now refuse to go back. When I ask them to workout with me they claim I am trying to kill them.

    • bowenshea permalink*
      June 8, 2010 1:43 pm

      Ooooh, Heather, that’s a big bummer! Maybe try to meet some new pals through a local running group? Not saying you should ditch your non-sporty friends…but diversification is nice.

  6. June 8, 2010 2:54 pm

    It started out with this little band of girls, now its a big band and some boys too. We talk a lot about parenting, conceiving (or the struggles with trying), with work and home life. I especially love the truth that comes from these runs, like you are unable to hold back because you are being carried forward.

  7. June 9, 2010 5:20 am

    Thanks for this post, a reminder on many fronts…..what about a guest post from your friend C on her struggle and success in fighting anorexia? Though it sounds like her problem started younger, it’s a problem not much talked about among women of our age.

  8. Jocelyn permalink
    June 9, 2010 9:49 am

    I’ve been meditating on this post since yesterday and feel compelled to share a little bit about my own story. After the birth of my third child, I set out on my first-ever attempt to lose weight. I accrued several extra pounds after I quit my job, quit my gym, and consistently ate whatever was leftover on my kids’ plates. I started exercising with a group of neighbor moms, and I diligently tracked what I was putting into my mouth. And I started running. I guess you could say my road to hell was paved with good intention.

    To make a long story short, I lost weight, became obsessed with my exercise and diet, and fell away from my group of friends. I would run alone, berating myself the whole way, to burn off what little food I allowed myself. At 31, I was diagnosed: eating disorder not otherwise specified. What followed was loads of therapies, little progress, and sadly, a resort to medication. And I quit running. At 35, I gained back my prescribed amount of weight and then some, but I had just given up really. I didn’t care about myself. Sparing lots of details here, I stopped the medication, began exercising again, and revisited how I was eating.

    This past January, I challenged myself to run a half marathon… in a healthy way. Just like some runs, I encountered a few bumps along the way. I trained alone. The line between normal and disordered can be pretty blurry at times. Still, I accomplished my goal. I proved to myself that running is a gift, not the punishment it used to be. I was overcome with emotion after I crossed that finish line!

    I never wanted to run with anyone else. I would be too slow, or maybe too fast, too winded to talk, or too boring when I could. After months of training, observing other runners and reading RLAM, I can clearly see the value in running with a partner or in a group! I wonder what my life might have been like if I ran with a friend. I have my sights set on another half marathon, but this time… I think I’ll seek out some company on the road!

    • June 13, 2010 8:18 pm

      Hey Jocelyn–Thanks for sharing what sounds like a really rough time in your life. We all have our challenges, and this one sounds like a doozie. I applaud you for running in a healthy way, and for realizing that the road between disorder and normal is not as clear-cut as we’d all like. Most of all, I encourage you to find a friend. You’ll find a whole new perspective in running, and get out of your skin. That sounds harsh, but it’s really a beautiful benefit of running friendships. Best of luck to you. xo.

  9. Beverly permalink
    June 10, 2010 2:43 pm

    My story is a mixed bag of issues I’ve made bigger than they are. Like Sarah, I was not athletic in my younger days. Like C/Jocelyn, I have body image issues. Like Heather I have no friends who like to exercise let alone run! I ran in college due to a former boyfriend’s love of running. It was time we could spend together – even on the busiest of school days. Kept running when I met the guy who is now my husband. Wasn’t running for myself and eventually quit five years ago. Gained 35 lbs and decided to run to get the weight off. Didn’t start out with the right motivation. Over the past year, I’ve lost 30 lbs and learned to love running for the freedom it allows me. Wish I had friends to run with but still battling the body image issues. Like Jocelyn, I need to start looking for friends to run with. If they are true friends, they don’t care about cellulite, a little extra around the middle and my huffing/puffing when I push myself to run harder.l

  10. June 15, 2010 11:50 pm

    Weirdly my browser doesn’t show this blog completely…not sure as to why this is occurring. Moving On, it was a totally interesting read, keep up the fantastic work and I will return in the very near future.

  11. June 25, 2010 9:46 am

    A long run is no doubt the best ways to discuss everything from marriage and kids to divorces and bankruptcies. As the t-shirt slogan says, running with buddies is a lot cheaper than therapy. (When I lived in Boston, my running partner was actually a therapist, so I got the best of both worlds!).

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