Friday, August 5, 2016

Ode to a Running Partner

"There's a bench up here, let's just sit down for a second." It was the middle of the night, 80 something miles into the Boulder 100 and my running partner was tired. "There's no bench, Matty, let's just keep going." I said, worrying that if we sat down we'd never get up. It was my pacing duty to keep him going, to make sure he made it to the finish line, but he was determined to take a break. He sat down on the bench and managed a laugh. "You thought I was hallucinating this bench didn't you?" And so the story of the bench that appeared out of nowhere became legend. "And we're running along and I saw this bench and I say we should sit down for a second and Clythie thinks I'm hallucinating because she couldn't even see it! How did I end up with a pacer who can't even SEE?" And I would try to say that I just thought we should keep going, and the story always ends with him explaining to the audience that I was the one who was so tired I couldn't see the bench and that I was convinced he was hallucinating when he was completely fine. And we always laugh, at me. I've learned to laugh at myself a lot over the last 6 years that Matthew and I have been running together. Maybe that's what I've given to him. A lot of great laughs, mostly at my expense. I tell him he is awful and he says "You're laughing too." And I say, "Well, if the story was about someone else, I'd be laughing so I guess it *is* funny." And we laugh more. 

We met at work at a winery in Virginia and together with a group from the winery, we joined the Fauquier Running Club. During the day we would haul cases of wine, count wine, clean the winery, pick grapes, bottle wine, plan events, present tastings to customers, whatever the winery needed. And at night, we'd run. Neither of us had been runners growing up, but we were fascinated by it, and we wanted to get better and faster, and soon all we talked about was running and runners and more running. On Tuesdays we'd join for a group run, and on Thursdays, speed work or hill workouts. Before we started training on Thursdays we'd run The Fast Mile. It was an insane mile, starting out from the track downhill through a parking lot, with 2 big turns and then around a baseball field and through the woods, back to the track. We would all run our hearts out. Matthew was always in the top 3-4 finishers. And I was nearly always in the bottom 3-4 runners. And he was always there waiting at the end of The Fast Mile to cheer me in. And after track work or repeatedly climbing Hades Hill, we'd go back to the track and cool down and talk about our lives at the winery and our running and our shin splints and our aching backs and the sun would go down and we'd go home to sleep and wake up for another day of wine and running.  

Soon we signed up for our first race, a 5k in Front Royal, Virginia. Matthew finished first for his age group and I did not finish last and this became somewhat of a pattern for both of us. We've always been unlikely running partners. Not matched in age or pace or gender, but we shared a similar schedule and a love for running and a friendship like no other was born. 

Front Royal 5k. The real genius of this pic is the fact that we were both running in gigantic gym shorts.  

At another 5k, a mountain 5k, which was also our first trail race, by the time I was coming up the last hill, I was exhausted and near tears. Matthew finished racing and came back for me, as was now tradition, and started shouting. "YOU CAN CRY LATER. FINISH FIRST! RUN NOW! RUN!" And that day we both won age group medals. Full disclosure, his was first place and mine was for 3rd place in a field of 3 women in my age group. But I wouldn't have even made it to the finish line without him. That medal means more to me than 3rd out of 3. It's the one that reminds me to run through the pain, cry later, finish, run NOW. 

This picture was taken moments before they called my name to come pick up my medal. Needless to say I was surprised. 

We flew out to California and ran America's Finest City Half Marathon, the furthest we'd ever run in our lives at the time. My brother and Matthew finished and came back to run me in. Matthew would do that again for me a couple of months later at the Annapolis Half, a race which gave us both Half Marathon PRs and dual hangovers - the Annapolis runners know how to throw a great after party.

Big smiles after our first Half Marathon

And even bigger smiles after our second Half Marathon, double PRs and a few beers too.

I crewed for him at the Bull Run 50 Miler and when he started training for Boulder 100, I'd do my long runs (for Half Marathon training for Reston and Chicago) on Saturdays and then pace him with my bike on his long runs (17-30 miles) on Sundays. 

Between races, we'd run trails, always creating a great adventure out of a run. We'd start and end at the same place and run our own paces and then report back afterward. "I had a great run today, Matty!" I'd say, excited about how great I felt. "Yeah? Do that for 3 days in a row and report back to me again," he'd reply. Or he'd give me sage advice, "You, know, Clythie, if you want to run faster, you're going to have to run faster." He always pushes me, always encourages me to be better, work harder, not to let up. And I've always, I don't know? Been there for him?  Laughed with him? I can't keep up with him, even when he's tired. But we somehow help each other out. 

We've run many many miles on the Appalachian Trail, on the W&OD, the C&O Canal, through Rock Creek Park, in the mountains in West Virginia and at running camp in Colorado, and too many races together to recount. Despite the fact that we rarely run the same pace, we always run together. There's more to running together than matching pace. We're each other's running support system.

And now, in four days, I'm moving to San Diego and Matthew and I will no longer be running together. For 6 years we have run together and now we'll be 3,000 miles and 3 hours time change apart. How do you say goodbye to the best running partner on the planet? Hopefully with more laughs than tears but it won't be easy.  

I suppose it won't be that strange after we get used to it. After all we don't really run together. At least, that what I've been telling myself. And I'll have my brother and my sister in law, who are both amazing runners, and I have a group of wonderful running girlfriends in California. And I'll join a new running group. And Matthew has his friends in Woodley Ultra Society and other friends who  he runs with as well. And we'll plan running vacations and meet up for races and we'll see each other, not every day like we're used to, but we'll make it happen as often as we can, and we'll be there for each other as much as possible, like all running partners are. And we'll run at our own paces, and catch up with each other at the end and he'll likely elbow me and say, "Remember when you thought I was hallucinating that bench at the Boulder 100?"