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Forging friendships through running
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Shelly Mathews and Kim Cowart at the 2014 Ragnar Wasatch Back Relay Race. - photo by Kim Cowart
Sitting in the car with the heater and seat warmers on full blast, I look out the window at a chilly scene. The wind is howling. The sky is gray. The water on the lake looks as choppy and uneven as my self-cut bangs in third grade. Awake since 4:30 a.m., Ive already taught a strength training class, thrown a load of laundry in the washer and herded the girls to school. Its always tempting to drive home and crawl under the covers, but I never do. No matter how tired I am, no matter how treacherous the weather, Friday runs are special runs because these arent solo runs. These are my run days with my BRF (best running friend) Shelly.

Peanut butter and chocolate. Popcorn and Coke. Black and white. Fresh laundry on a rainy day. Alone, each item is fine, but when paired with its mate, these items shine more brightly.

Running and friendship is an easy add to that list. How can two acquaintances move to bosom buddies in a matter of miles? Why are friendships forged on the run laced together with the strongest of bonds?

Shelly and I have been friends for over eight years. Weve traveled together, worked out together, but only recently have we begun to run together. Every Friday after school drop-off we meet at the same spot for a 10-mile run. Weve ran in hail. Weve ran in torrential rain. Weve ran into a wind that has literally knocked us off our feet. That pre-determined time together is so sacred weve arranged work schedules and travel itineraries around our Friday runs whenever possible.

Its not as though we couldnt see each other at any other time. For many years weve met for lunch, gym appointments, bike rides, and weekend getaways. But theres something about those 10-milers that are as necessary as food and water.

Maybe its the sheer exhaustive effort of running that forces us to let down our guard. Maybe its the warm sun on our shoulders that makes a dark mood brighter. Maybe because were looking ahead, unable to make eye contact that we feel more secure to say whats on our mind.

Whatever the reason, those runs are the most restorative part of my week. Issues that have been rattling around the dark recesses of my mind suddenly find their way out into the light when I pour my heart out to Shelly on our runs. We talk about our successes and failures as moms, job woes, hopeful plans, and a weekly favorite topic - food. In the span of 90 minutes we mourn together, vent, celebrate and cheer each other on.

We can have an in-depth conversation on navigating through the choppy waters of our teenage girls lives one minute, and the next be dissecting the plot twists of the latest episode of Downton Abbey. Any filters we have in place in our daily lives disintegrate a little more with each footfall. Short of my husband, Shelly knows more about me than any other person on earth. Thank goodness were friends because she has more dirt on me than a pig in spring.

Before we began running together, we biked together. Years ago Shelly, our friend Tonya and I took up cycling. During those long rides and steep climbs, our mouths were as busy as our legs as we talked our way through many a mile. Its amazing how we never ran out of words during those six- to eight-hour days. By the end of every ride our legs werent the only thing about us that was stronger.

But unlike cycling, running doesnt take as much concentration. Im more relaxed and willing to let my mind wander. Its not therapy, but its pretty close. The hills, both physical and emotional, never seem as steep when Im climbing them with a friend.

Ive mostly been a solo runner. I love time alone to mull over my thoughts or to completely zone out and leave my brain at home. But these last few months running with my friend have been some of the best runs Ive ever had. I finish each one feeling stronger, mentally, if not physically, than when we started. Were both a little lighter at the end after unloading on each other mile after mile. If Friday runs were the only runs I could ever do for the rest of my life, Id be just fine with that.

And thats why, no matter if my mood is as dark as the clouds outside, when that familiar black Subaru pulls up beside me, I put the phone away, slip the car key in my pocket, take one last sip of water and step outside and start moving forward.

Because a run is so much more than a run when you run with a friend. Shes the Ben to my Jerry. The Calvin to my Hobbes. The milk to my cookies. Thanks, Shelly!