Find your people

“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”
-Amy Poehler

My first running friend was Emily.

I was not a very athletic kid. I was an indoor kid, one who preferred books and TV over just about anything else, unless it was summer, and then I would venture outside to swim. But sports? Forget it. Sports were opportunities to get made fun of when the tetherball hit me in the face or I kicked the soccer ball into the wrong goal.

People told me I was a good runner — according to family lore, I had to be pulled off the course during my first grade jog-a-thon because I wouldn’t stop running. Yet despite this early promising start, I remained steadfast in my refusal to run anything more than the mandatory mile in P.E. until, as a high school sophomore, a friend convinced me to try out for the swim team.

I failed miserably. But there was an upside to my failure and that was that Emily, until that point a second-tier friend at most, attempted to console me: “You should come out for cross-country. They’ll take anybody.”

Indeed, they did, and in cross-country I found my people — a merry band of weirdos who also ran in the distance events for the track and field team in the spring. But the important part of this story is that I found Emily, who to this day is one of my best friends. Back then, we ran at exactly the same pace. Which was … let’s just say we often fought for that number seven spot in cross-country meets. That’s irrelevant, really, because over miles and miles together, up Killer Hill and through Old Fig and around the Bullard track, we became best friends. And I found that even though running could feel really awful — really really awful if you had shin splints or a broken heart (high school boys, am I right?) — it also made me feel really good. And it was always more fun if I didn’t have to do it alone.

Me and Em, circa 1996. Doing something weird, probably.

Over the years, I kind of forgot that. After college I moved to Chicago and, while I continued running, I rarely ran more than three miles at a time in the forest preserve across from my apartment. In 2002 I signed up for the Chicago Marathon and trained for it by myself. By my third marathon, in 2006, I’d discovered an online running community, where I discussed training and life with other runners, primarily other mothers of young children. We chatted about training schedules and jogging strollers, upcoming races and running goals. I met a few Chicago-area forumites a few times. Each time we ran together I would think, “I should do this more often,” but never went out of my way to find a local training group.

By 2014, I was still running but I wasn’t training for anything in particular. A year earlier, we had moved from the Bay Area to Fresno — it was a wholly unexpected and unwelcome move, and I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself even as I knew it wasn’t fair to my husband and kids. The thing about moving a lot as an adult, especially if you’re an introvert, is that it gets more and more difficult to break into established social circles and make friends. I spent a lot of time alone, running through my new neighborhood and listening to podcasts.

Missing the Bay Area, I signed up for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon lottery. When I got in, an old high school friend suggested I train with her running group. I figured the coaching would help. It had been four years since my last half marathon.

Also, I had started talking back to the podcasts.

At my first DAR workout, I discovered that Farshad’s idea of a “surprise” is very different from what most of us think of as a surprise. I also discovered that everyone — from our fastest, Boston-qualifying runners to those training for their first race — was kind and eager to welcome me to the team.

Training alone, as I had done for nearly 20 years, was fine. I got the job done. But running as part of a team made me a stronger runner and gave me a community when I very much needed one. I think we can all think of a time when a teammate made us laugh during a particularly grueling workout, offered their last packet of Gu, cheered for the team at a race they weren’t participating in, liked an Instagram post non-runners would never understand, or offered words of encouragement when they were most needed.

Last year, I took some time away from DAR — and running entirely — to recover from an injury. Whenever I saw DAR updates in my Facebook feed, photos from the weekend’s long run or an out of town race, I would feel a pang of envy. I missed running, but I also missed running with my friends.

DAR is a community within the larger Fresno running community, which has so much to offer runners of all backgrounds and abilities. But there is something special about our team, with our highlighter-yellow shirts and surprises that aren’t always welcome but always worth it. If you’re a DAR veteran, you know what I mean. If you’re new to the team, you soon will.

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