Monday, April 29, 2013

More Strong Women--My Training Partners

This is the fourth day on which I will discuss my tattoo with respect to my experience in and around the Boston Marathon.  Yesterday I spoke about the most important strong woman in my life--my wife.  There are many other strong women in my life--personal and professional. However, when it comes to running, one of the most important groups of strong women is the group of women with whom I train.

It is funny that I never really thought of running as a place to meet a lot of women when I was in high school.  But, the simple fact of the matter is that in my circle of running friends (and at least on  Facebook running friends account for one of every six people on my list), women are a majority.  And among the people I run with most often, women are the dominant majority.

In Back on My Feet, Team Christopher's Place supports gentleman in a work training program.  But most of the non-resident runners who come from the community to run with the guys are women.  And while none of the women from Team CP is one of my most frequent training partners, it is definitely the case that much of the team leadership has been female and those women definitely have shared their energy and enthusiasm for running with the entire team to make running a better experience for all concerned.

But it is not only the women in Back on My Feet who have made a difference.  I can count five women in particular who represent important aspects of my training experience.  They represent how running is an egalitarian sport.  Everyone faces the same course.  Everyone faces the same rules.  Everyone faces the same objective--get to the finish line as quickly as possible given the condition you are in.

The first of the women I will mention is the one with whom I formed a two-person marathon relay team.  She and I called our team "Who's the Mentor?"  The question in this case reflects the fact that I have served as a professional mentor, she has served as a running mentor, and together we have taken each of these issues into other parts of our lives.  In the weekend before the marathon we shared emails in which I credited her for her ability to share her enthusiasm and bring others to do things and she credited me with helping to motivate her and see her through her academic program and then challenged me to strive for greatness at Boston.  Not greatness in the sense of winning against all others but in the sense of being all that I could do.  I think I rose to that challenge on April 15.  Most days when we train together she runs ahead or at least sounds like she is not working as hard based on her steps and her breathing but there are days when I run ahead.  She is an excellent runner and clearly the better runner of the two of us but she is human.  And the strength with the humanity makes clear just how egalitarian running is.  On any given day either one of us might run ahead--although at the end of the day, she has the better personal best times.  She is a leader.  She has run Boston, but not this year.

The second woman who is a consistent training partner is a fellow employee at Johns Hopkins.  She has times that are just about as good as or better than mine at most distances but she points out that her times have been getting worse while mine have been getting better.  I am not entirely sure about that but it is an interesting juxtaposition.  I usually run ahead on the track.  She easily keeps on the occasional long run.  We have never run a race together.   We ponder whether running a race together might help each of us to get a better time.  She has run Boston, but not this year.  While she did not have all the same inspiring words as my relay partner, it was wonderful to speak with her in my second workout after the marathon.

The third woman who is a frequent training partner is someone with whom I have done many track workouts and with whom I have done some tempo workouts and a few long runs.  We have crossed paths in a couple of races.  I fairly consistently run ahead but she is always close enough to me to keep me going and some of her best race times are very close to mine.  I think she is still figuring out what her ultimate running capacity is.  Maybe she will find out in the next couple of years.  She will run Boston next year.  And I imagine we will have a long conversation about the race as she sorts it out afterwards.  Although I hope that her sorting out is all about the run and not about other events on the day as my sorting out has been this year.  

The fourth woman has not run Boston and may never run Boston.  She represents the other end of my running friends.  Not very slow but not someone I would run next to on most workouts.  I would run ahead.  Yet we are good friends and both runners and each respects where he other is.  Each recognizes how far the other has come since we first met.  Each recognizes how wonderful each running experience is and what the other gains.  Running is egalitarian.  Everyone is welcome.  The key is for each person to run the best he or she can and she always does.  Runners can be friends without even running together in some cases.

The fifth woman I will mention is the one I have run with most often.  In the first year of marathon training I thought I would never keep up.  She ran ahead in most every workout and outran my by 12 minutes and some in the actual marathon.  However, by the next year while she still seemed to have the capacity to run ahead we ended up running near similar times.  She and I have been consistent training partners since the summer of 2011.  That was the second year of participation in the Charm City Run training group.  We were well matched.  After that race, neither one of us has gone back to a formal training group, but we have run together.  At least on weekends when we are both in town, when we don't have another race, when we don't have more important kid activities, and when we are healthy.  This means we certainly don't run every weekend.  But we have shared many miles.  We both enjoy early runs--cooler in the summer, gives each of us the rest of the day for our kids.  And we have each achieved our personal bests while training at least some of the time with the other.  Perhaps one day in the future when we are both healthy and ready to race again, we will race together and push each other-not just for a good run through the streets of Towson, Timonium, Lutherville, and Baltimore or the trails by Loch Raven Reservoir or the NCR Trail--but for each of us to achieve the best we ever have in running.  And while she has run a Boston qualifying time, she puts her kids ahead of going to Boston.  Perhaps some day she will have the joy of a Boston experience as well.  Until then we just continue to support each other in our running endeavors.

Do my training partners have to be female?  Of course not.  The people with whom I run most often just happen to be. I could tell stories about five guys just as easily.  The focus on the women I run with is driven by the tattoo imagery.  And it is a matter of when schedules and needs line up.  It is a matter of who I have met in my running experience, who has needed a training partner, and who has been willing to act as a training partner.  Regardless, these five women are five examples of strong women who have had an influence on my running life.  Each hears about a sliver of my personal life and/or professional life as we converse while we run.  

Each was concerned about my safety on April 15--as were many other people.  And, as someone who made it through April 15 safely, I hope not only to grow my personal and professional relationships and activities to be stronger than ever, but I also hope to continue to strengthen all of my running friendships and to make it clear how much I value them.  Every relationship (personal, professional, and running) should be cherished every day--since I never can predict when they will be taken away or when I will be taken away.

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