Ellen Marcus “Women Running on Beach”

We come together in the early morning dark, on street corners or in front of our houses, whispering our greetings to each other. We have sleep in our voices, and mascara under our eyes, with hair pulled back in hasty ponytails. No one cares that I wear the same thing almost every single morning.

Under the cover of darkness, we know each other intimately. When we’re running side by side, it’s somehow easier to talk about the mean girl in my daughter’s class, or her struggles with her calling. Nothing is off limits– we talk about doubt and faith, the joys and sorrows of our husbands and children, politics (even when we disagree), sex, how we all want more sleep and less time on the sidelines at soccer games, vacation plans, periods, grocery shopping, shaving our legs, recipes, why we don’t want to have another baby, why we’re dying to go back to work, who gives the best pedicures, and all our fears.

Over the years, I’ve run with many different women– Stacy, Sarah, Gentree, Stephanie, Alexis, Lynn, Afton, Terry, Tara, Julie, Michelle, Catherine, Suzanne, Traci, Heather, Chelle. But even as our schedules and partners change, the intimacy remains the same. I think it’s the intimacy of the  circumstances that makes us such fast friends– the only other time in my life I’ve had this experience was when I met my freshman roommate in college. In both cases, I’ve had to lay myself bare in front of these women and hope they accept me.

It’s nearly impossible for us to hide anything from each other. A few months ago, my friend Suzanne told me she was six weeks pregnant with her fifth child and I said, “I knew that two weeks ago.” Our other running friend, Michelle, had correctly predicted Suzanne’s fourth pregnancy before she could even take a pregnancy test. We know these things about each other. I think it comes from huddling with them under space blankets at the star line of races and cheering them on at the finish line. It comes from seeing them run with Achilles/knee/hip/ankle/back pain. It comes from week after week of aligning my pace with theirs, from seeing them shivering, sweating, trying not to puke after speedwork and hill runs, and flying through the air when they hit a rock on the trail.

But the funny thing is, when I see these same women during the day, when I run into them at the grocery store or the elementary school, when we go out for rare lunches for someone’s birthday, I almost always do a double take. They look so polished, with their shiny long hair, their skirts and sandals, their shirts that aren’t stained with sweat. They breathe slower and look relaxed. But sometimes I think I’m never more relaxed, never more truly myself, than when I’m out running with my girls.

Who are your “running buddies?” What are the circumstances you’ve found yourself in intimate relationships with other women?


  1. Erika

    June 10, 2013

    Very true post. A running buddy is a very specific person. Not just anyone can be a one precisely because you’re at your most vulnerable. I have loved finding people that you can simply ‘be’ with. Those side-by-side conversations are the best and not for the timid.

  2. Anon this time

    June 10, 2013

    I’m no runner, but I have found some pretty amazing “running friends” as it were.

    Mine were found in a room full of people; in an addiction recovery program. Eventually the 30 something couples were broken down, and for the next 15 months myself and 6 other women met once a week in an attempt to heal our broken hearts and minds in group therapy. We shared the most intimate moments with each other, things we had never spoken of to others. We talked of our experiences of living with an addict, we shared our heartaches, the crazy thinking, the mistrust, the things we lost because of the addiction, difficult and traumatic times and all other things we had previously deeply and purposefully hid from everyone else. We cried together many, many times, and even found moments of laughter. In that time, we were bonded to eachother in a way I have never felt before.

    Those days are further and further behind me, but the bounds of friendship created in that office are still strong. We meet monthly and can talk for hours and hours and still continue if the clock would just slow down. But unlike other friendships I have, we skip the small talk entirely and delve into what is *really* going on with us—the slips, the relapses, divorce, the heartaches and the joys. And while there are still some tears shed, there is always joy and laughter and a great sense of renewal when we are together. I don’t think I could’ve made it through my darkest trial without these beautiful angel women, who literally bouyed me up—and I them—in the greatest time of need. They know fully all my weaknesses and my faults and unreservedly love me anyways.

  3. Blue

    June 10, 2013

    I wish I could run with you. 🙁

  4. Michelle L.

    June 13, 2013

    I can’t express how much I miss running with you Shelah. Dumb stupid back injury.

    Worse than the pain and the weight gain is my lack of early-morning therapy. I think running is what has kept me relatively sane all these years. There’s a beauty and being able to talk freely and without judgment that comes in those early morning hours. Whenever I go out to lunch with friends I often feel the need to apologize. But with running buddies, truth is just the norm.

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