I remember slogging around the North Coast 24, on it’s .9-mile track. It was the race that I wanted to hit my first 75 miler. I would have to go around that track 84 times. Yeah…monotonous. After running for about 12 hours, evening was descending. A runner approached me, “Do you have anyone to spend the night with?” In any other context, this would be absolutely inappropriate, but on this course, it was just his way of looking for someone to talk to while we went around, and around, and around. He needed a friend.
He was a very nice man, but was obviously struggling with the race. He had suffered a stroke that left him with major holes in his memory and with speech deficits. We spent hours talking about his recovery and obstacles that he has had to overcome. His finish line was at 50 miles, and he thanked me for the company and said, “If you ever want to run the HAT race, you let me know. I’m one of the race directors. We fill up quickly, but you’ve always got a spot. Thank you for being a friend”.
Fast-forward 2 years. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and I was running around Chestnut Ridge Park. On a break, I checked Facebook, and saw that my friend Chris had signed up for HAT. Right then and there, I signed up as well. Lucky for me, as they do fill up quickly.
I got to thinking about friendships. Some of the connections I have made have been short and intense and others have lasted decades. All of these connections are held very deeply in my heart. I’m also blessed, that many of these friendships have been forged and nurtured on a training run or during a race. There is just something about the environment of a race that strips away all the pretenses of daily life and allows you to really get to know a person.
But, not all of my friends are runners. In the last few weeks, I have had two wonderful opportunities to reconnect with friends from about 20 years ago. I got to not only catch up on children, marriages, jobs, etc., I got to see how time has shaped and molded these people, who were so pivotal to me, at an important time in my life…college.
I attended a sorority reunion. When one of my sisters, Laureen, gave me a hug, it was long; it was hard; and neither one of us wanted to let go. “You have no idea how much I have missed your energy”, she said. I melted. It was like I was transported back to that special time in my life before I had the responsibilities of a career and a family. Back when I was just deciding which direction I wanted my life to take.
Mary, my little sister in the sorority, and one of my bridesmaids, was the one who talked me into going. I can’t remember a time when she and I have not been friends. She is my confidante and truly a remarkable woman. I ludge you.
As fate would have it, while running a marathon in DC the week before HAT, I reconnected with Victor—another member of my wedding party—a bridesman. Ah, Victor---so self-assured; confident; secure; happy. We spent a wonderful day puttering around DC, again like no time had passed from when we had last seen each other.
I took these happy thoughts with me to the HAT race. The night before about 8 of us went out to dinner and had a wonderful time that had nothing to do with the great food. I stood (and shivered) at the starting line with Chris and my new friend, and fellow Beast, Mark. This really is what friends are for.
On the course, I let my mind wander back to these connections and they powered me through the gloriously warm 70-degree day. I must type that again ---70 DEGREES! After this long arduous winter it was nice to be warmed by thoughts of friends on the inside and the sun on the outside.
When I crossed the finish line, I sat with Chris and her husband Joe. We basked in the warm sun, while I texted another friend to share my finish. It was easy; nice; relaxed. Ahhhh…..this is why I do this!
I think of my son, as he prepares his college choice process. I can only hope that he not only finds a major that will lead to a lifetime of vocational fulfillment, but also a school that will give him the connections that will last a lifetime.
Because, when you reach a finish line, it’s really nice to know, that you’ve got a friend.