When it comes to running, I fall squarely into the “not here to make friends” category. I’ve even gone so far as to feign illness in order to avoid having to meet up with would-be running companions. I like to think that running alone keeps me focused.
When I was 5, I received an American Girl doll for Christmas. Her name was Kirstin and she was supposed to be a Swedish immigrant living in Minnesota in 1854. My sister had Samantha of Victorian times, and I thought that meant our dolls couldn’t play with each other. Each day, we sprawled out happily on the floor together with the dolls and all of their outfits, but whenever my sister tried to say something to Kirstin in her Samantha voice, I’d refuse to play along. My rationale was that Kirstin couldn’t time-travel or speak English, thank you very much. To make matters worse, I knew exactly three words in the Swedish language: Tack (thank you), ja (yes), and nej (no).
Running alone is a lot like refusing to play with someone because of your dolls’ respective cultural differences: principled but lonely.
On New Year’s eve, my friend Prairie visited me in Montpelier and we signed up to run together in the First Night 5K. I was more nervous about this than I’d been at the start of my first half-marathon. What if our paces were different? Should I try to keep up with her or just go at my own speed? Would it be rude to run separately?
My high school gym teacher used to say that the best way to get better at running was to do it conversationally, which meant doing it at a speed at which you can talk without gasping for breath. I always thought that she was just trying to get the class to incorporate some kind of movement into our gossip sessions, and it wasn’t until this 5K that I discovered the wisdom to her advice. Prairie ran with me and distracted me, via celebrity gossip updates, from thinking too much about the uphill portion. I barely noticed my knees on the downhill because we were weighing the pros and cons of pausing to let Prairie tie her shoelaces. We finished in just under 29 minutes, but felt as though we’d only been running for ten. We didn’t win any awards that day, but I felt great.