Running buddies

Running and Racing: Christopher Goss
September 9, 2000

Runners are frequently thought of as solitary figures, working our way up and down city streets and around tracks in isolation.

Popular culture supports this image of the lonely runner. The movies Marathon Man, Chariots of Fire, and even Forest Gump all depicted runners feeding their running obsessions in solitude.

If asked to name a book about running, many people would respond with Alan Sillitoe's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (true runners, though, would undoubtedly select John L. Parker, Jr.'s Once a Runner).

Ask your friends about memorable races. You are more likely to hear about the solo performances of Frank Shorter in the 1972 Olympic marathon or Bill Rodgers in his first Boston win in 1975 than you are the epic head-to-head battle of Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley in 1982's Boston Marathon.

These images of loneliness and solitude do not paint a complete picture of us as runners. It is true that we run many of our runs alone with only the alternating rhythm of exhaled air and rubber striking pavement to keep us company. In fact, this quiet time of reflection and connection with our physical selves is an important reason why we run. To truly enjoy our sport and achieve maximum performance, however, you need to find a good running buddy.

This fact hit me hard this week, as I had to say goodbye to Joe Lane, my running buddy for the past several years. He is moving to Boston and taking our lunchtime runs and heady philosophy sessions with him.

I am sure that we will still talk and brag about workouts and races. I will no longer have to worry about Joe's little problem of tripping and falling on top of me or nearby children. The Bloomington running community will now have a place to meet and hang out when we go to the Boston Marathon.

None of this, though, makes up for the fact that I no longer will be meeting Joe at the railroad crossing at 11:45 a.m. every weekday for 5 or 6 miles.

Saying goodbye to good friends is never easy, but I think it is even harder for running buddies. It is not easy to find someone that is interested in the same things that you are — and wants to run every day at the same pace that you do.

Runners in this community run anywhere from 5 to 13 minutes per mile. It's tough enough just finding someone in that range that is within 10 to 20 seconds of what you want to run. If you are going to spend an hour a day with that person, it sure helps if you also have some common interests.

As running buddies go, Joe was a great match. We are both corporate engineers harboring secret ambitions to eventually work within the community or with children. We have similar views on most political issues. We both have a son and daughter in elementary school, and both of us have wonderful, patient wives that are very supportive of our running obsession.

This isn't to say that we always agreed on the same solutions to all of the world's problems — we fixed a lot of things during our runs — but we always had common ground to come back to.

Joe and I are also pretty evenly matched as runners. Joe gets the nod in marathons and longer races, but I could usually get him in the shorter stuff. One of us was always in a little better shape, but that is exactly how we were always able to push each other to improve. We reveled in each other's accomplishments, but we also didn't mind earning bragging rights until that next race.

As much as I love running, some days it is just hard to get out the door. Knowing that Joe would be out there at lunch was often the motivation I needed to get going. I can't remember ever wishing that I had stayed inside. I know several people who dramatically improved their running after finding someone to run with. It's a simple matter of improving your consistency because someone else is counting on you.

If you are lucky enough to have a good running buddy, tell them how much they mean to you during your next run. If you haven't found one, keep looking. It's worth it — even if you find one that falls down a lot. Those solitary runs are important, but the ones with good friends are almost always the ones you remember.

Godspeed, Joe. Find a railroad crossing in Boston and I'll meet you there on Patriot's Day.

Carpe viam.