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The Amazing Benefit of Running with a Friend

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During a recent long run, my training plan called for eight easy miles followed by three miles at my very ambitious half-marathon goal pace (the status of said pace is a post for another day). I wasn’t the least bit scared of or intimidated by my prescribed workout. I was confident I could run the paces I wanted to hit.

But running is a funny thing. It doesn’t always cooperate. I can’t explain what was up with me that day, but the first eight “easy miles” felt brutally hard, leaving me feeling defeated before the goal-pace miles even began. (Learn The Mental Hack for How to Run Faster.)

Fortunately, I run in Central Park, where familiar faces during Saturday morning long runs are about as common as foreign smells on an over-crowded downtown 6 train during the Monday morning rush commute. As I approached the eight-mile mark of my run, I (literally) ran into my fast friend Abbe.

Abbe and I used to run together often. But as I drifted out of shape, she got increasingly faster. Soon, my tempo paces were her “recovery paces,” and her interval workouts called for paces I can only achieve driving a car.

So despite being almost next-door neighbors with very similar schedules and a mutual love for the Central Park Reservoir loop, every time Abbe asks me if I want to run with her, I turn her down. And I’m so good at coming up with excuses for why I’m avoiding her.

“I have to go to the bathroom six more times before I can leave the apartment.”

“I might have to go to the bathroom along the way.”

“You’re too fast.”

“I’m too slow.”

“I’m hungry.”

“I’m full. I put too many chocolate chips on my oatmeal this morning.”

“I have to call my mom…at 6 AM…totally.”

But on this particular Saturday morning, Abbe stopped me and asked what kind of run I was doing. I told her I was about to embark on three “fast for me” miles.

“Great,” she told me. Her marathon pace happens to be equivalent to my half-marathon dream pace, so she told me to tag along while she did marathon-pace loops. “Don’t look at your watch,” she said. “I’ll run. Just stay with me.”

I tried to think of excuses—“oh, but I was going to run the Reservoir, not the lower loop”—but she wasn’t having them. So we started (on a teeny tiny uphill, no less!) and I hung on.

For about 45 seconds.

And then Abbe was gone.

I kept moving, trying so hard to quickly put one foot in the other, but I just couldn’t lock into the pace.

I watched Abbe get smaller as she ran into the distance, and when she rounded a corner I lost sight of her entirely.

My pace was nowhere near what it should have been or where I wanted it to be. But I stuck it out because Abbe was holding me accountable. On my own, I surely would have stopped for water, for an obviously urgent skim through Instagram, or to “adjust my sports bra.” But I knew I couldn’t stop with Abbe waiting for me at the end of the loop.

At the end of the three miles, there was Abbe. I practically collapsed into her arms when I finally reached her, totally exhausted, bummed out, and embarrassed. “I was supposed to run so much faster,” I whined breathlessly. I was upset I hadn’t been able to stick with her, and upset that my run hadn’t gone the way I (and my coach) wanted.

But just like all my other excuses she’s dismissed in the past, she quickly dismissed my petty complaints.

“I’m never running with you again,” I told her. “We can maintain our friendship over Gchat and champagne dates, because that was so embarrassing. I couldn’t stay with you for even one mile.”

“Right. It’s not going to be easy, Ali,” Abbe said. “Getting faster wasn’t easy for me. I got faster by running with faster people and wanting to die the whole time. It’s hard.”

That’s the thing about running friends: You can want to hate them for being so much faster and fitter than you, and for being so brutally right. But it’s hard to hate when they’re hugging you and reassuring you that it is, in fact, going to hurt, and going to be hard, and going to be OK. (That moral support is one of the many reasons Why Having a Fitness Buddy Is the Best Thing Ever.)

I’ve completed a handful of “hard” runs since then. A few of them have gone well. Most of them haven’t. Regardless, after each one I remind myself of wise Abbe’s words: It’s not going to be easy.

The most rewarding things in life rarely are.

Alison Feller is a writer and editor in New York City. She has completed five marathons, 11 half-marathons, and many shorter distance races. When she’s not writing or on the run, Alison can be found in the yoga studio, on a spin bike, or (on very rare occasions) cycling outdoors with her fiancé. Keep up with Alison on her blog, Ali On The Run, or on Instagram and Twitter @AliOnTheRun1.


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