I first met my first running soulmate, Canada Jenn, when I was 24. I remember nervously checking the Second Sole website all week...seeing if, in fact, they were having a new member run at the store that Saturday in December. The shy part of me sort of wanted it to be canceled. I was never very good at being the new kid, especially in a sport that I felt I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. True, I had recently completed a marathon. But, it was the most clueless, one-f00t-in-front-of-the-other marathon that anyone had ever done...and I had trained for it completely alone. I grew up playing team sports: swimming and softball. I missed that. I missed living in a house with 7 of my best girl friends and having the rest of my friends all within a 5 square-mile area. I missed the late night talks and the endless closets that come from going to college and making new friends...the things you take for granted until they are over and you finally realize that will never happen again.
I had been back for a year, and despite the fact that this was my hometown...I felt lonely.
I almost didn't go that morning. But I decided to go. If I embarrassed myself, at least I could just go back home, right? It was cold and snowy. That would be a good excuse.
I walked in like it was 6th grade and I was walking into the cafeteria. I was very, very much afraid that it would be all waif-like, Olympic-Trials-Running Marathoners. And I would look completely out of place.
I saw another girl with a funky hat on who looked about my age sitting there with a big smile. So I nervously walked over to approach her. Maybe she'd want to run with me? Maybe she wouldn't think I was crazy for calling myself a runner--ME, of all people?
We started talking, and we realized we were very similar. Similar age, similar pace, similar sense of humor. And she lived right down the road from my apartment. And she loved coffee. And beer. And having fun.
And it was the fastest five miles I think I've ever ran: not pace-wise, but step wise. We talked and laughed the whole way.
I found my first running soulmate.
Running-wise, it's been a lonely three years. Once you get used to having the absolute best: the perfect combination of a running partner/best friend/happy-hour-buddy/neighbor-down-the-road/racing inspiration who is at your exact stage of life and your exact pace and goals and running philosophy, it's hard to imagine ever finding that again.
She had to leave, and I knew that day would come. I hoped they'd pick Cleveland--I kept talking up the great hospital system here (hey, Kings and Queens fly here just for the hospitals! pleasepleasestay) but their journey took them to Peoria for a year and finally to Sacramento, California. About as far west as one can get from Cleveland, unless you head to Hawaii. I knew it would come, since her family was all out west or still in Edmonton. But it really made me sad. Especially given that our lives were still staying relatively parallel--she was pregnant as I was about to have Bug, and she had her second little girl about 2 years later, just like me.
We were still running soulmates. Just a few thousand miles apart.
I searched and searched for the combination of best friend/running partner/same pace/running inspiration who now needed to literally live in my backyard. Because running was no longer something I could regularly schedule. Running came when I could steal a few moments away, or in the wee hours of the morning while the rest of the world slept. It still meant the same, and I wasn't ready to lose that. But I felt I had lost my running soulmate. I have lots of good friends, and running partners the same pace as me, and complete running inspirations...but none that were able to live in my backyard. I just couldn't justify taking more time away to travel to run, when I could lace up and run from my front door and be home and instantly able to help and hug and change and feed.
Three hours earlier and thousands of miles away, she was doing the same thing.
I sort of gave up. I gave up the idea that I'd ever be able to have that again--that perfect storm that makes the perfect running partner. And I settled into a routine of lonely-but-satisfying runs, with the occasional, once-a-month run with friends which required quite a bit of planning ahead. And it was good--it was more than good, actually. It allowed me to have a solid run at Columbus....to complete three half-ironman triathlons. To stay in touch with and be inspired by the amazing athletes who live in Northeastern Ohio.
But it wasn't the same. I didn't think it ever would be, and I had made peace with that.
"You know," said my mail carrier, "I keep getting this house and the one behind you on (the next street) with the same number mixed up."
"What?" I was in a complete lack-of-sleep-first-baby-haze.
"Congratulations, I mean. I can tell you have a new baby, and so does the girl who lives on the street behind you," he grinned. "I'm just apologizing for mixing up the mail for your houses. You know, with two babies and the same address and all."
"Oh," I smiled with exhaustion. "No worries--they have a baby, too?"
"Yep...must'a been about the same time as you!"
I wondered who that was, living in the same number a street behind me. I wondered if she was as tired as I was.
Time passed and I met a girl at the pool with two little girls--one was about my Bug's age. And we started talking and realized that we had a common friend; my amazing tri-buddy-and former swim coach, Laura. Ana taughed with Laura before she had her daughters--in the same district I taught at. And sooner or later, we realized we lived exactly one street apart.
And she was an athlete, too.
"Hey, we should run sometime with Laura!" I suggested. We both agreed, but then had to go chase a little one somewhere in the pool and it never really came to fruition.
Maybe someday, I thought.
A few more pool years went by, and Ana was about to have her third baby this past summer. Now that I have two, I understand what that means...and I have nothing but respect for people with three babies. HUGE respect. No more man-to-man defense...you gotta go zone. She told me she couldn't wait to get back into running after the baby arrived. That she was going to train for the Cleveland half marathon in the spring. Once again, I threw out the vague, "Hey, we should run together sometime!" out there. I dropped off a meal when her baby arrived. Then the pool closed for the season, and I just sort of thought that would be the last time I'd see her until next June.
On the way home from West Virginia on October 10th, the stars aligned and the time zones and naps cooperated, and I talked to my good friend and running soulmate Canada Jenn on the phone for almost an hour. As it always is with her, it was like no time had passed at all. We talked about jobs and juggling and balance and running and life and potty training and our babies. I hung up, and missed my friend dearly.
Last week, I headed to work one morning and saw a girl running down my street. "Man, she looks like she means business," I thought. As I drove by, I peered in the mirror to see who it was.
It was Ana. Kicking butt and flying down my street.
I got to thinking.
We arranged to run Sunday morning--she said she was up for anything, and was game for my suggested route of 6-8 miles. It was a warm morning, and I literally could have ran through my backyard to get to her house, but I figured I'd better just use the sidewalk and not trespass. So I did. She met me with a smile and an understanding of what 6-8 miles on a Sunday morning takes, as far as planning ahead is concerned. And we took off.
And I realized pretty quickly that we were the same pace--if anything, she was a little faster and was pushing me. But not too fast--we still had plenty of time to talk and laugh and vent and share all kinds of stories. We felt good and decided to go to my 8 mile turnaround--me with my OCD Garmin telling us our pace and distance, and she who just ran for fun and fitness and didn't even like to use a watch. But I could tell she was quite competitive, too--a former three-sport athlete kind of is, even if they don't wear a watch. And it was perfect.
The last half a mile she smiled and said, "Wanna pick it up?" so we did. FAST. She ran ahead of me, and I clung on for dear life. And it reminded me of all the 5Ks I did with my friend, Canada Jenn--she was almost always a few steps ahead of me, encouraging me to run with her, and pushing me to be faster and better. I hung on as we did around a 7-minute mile for that last half mile, and finally we got to my house.
We were done.
And it was the fastest 8 miles I've ran in a while. And it felt just like I had been out to dinner with an old friend, catching up about life.
We walked back to her house as a cooldown, and I could see my house through the now-nearly-bare trees one street away. We both agreed to definitely do this again.
Nothing will ever take the place of my first running soulmate. She remains a dear friend, a huge influence upon my running, and an inspiration to me as a mother.
But I think I might have just had my first run with my next running soulmate.