For most of my races, the rule has been train together, run alone.
In the earliest days, one of the great attractions to running while I learned to love the run itself, was the fellowship of Vince, Monica, Tin Tin, and sometimes JohnMo. But when it came time to run our first 10K, Vince was far ahead, and I was on my own.
I shared a tight bond of friendship with the FourRunners--a bond forged on the road, on early morning runs around the short loop and the long one--but when it came time to challenge Suicide Cliff or do the Thanksgiving morning Turkey Trot, we spread out and made the journey alone.
Ken Pierson and I trained for months together, and got to know each other much better on those arduous training runs for the San Francisco Marathon. But when it came time to churn out those 26.2 miles Ken started in one wave, and I started in another. I went through that crucible of pain alone, and only saw Ken at the finish line.
And more recently, Erwin Capilitan and I continued the same pattern at the Panerathon last August and the Buckeye Classic 10K too--train together, run alone.
My first glimpse of a different way to run came with the Disney Princess Half Marathon that I ran with my cousin Yvette and her friend Carrie Oetman. For the first time I completed an entire race running in step with others. It was a nice feeling. Of course, we hadn't trained together, and I essentially dialed back my own pace considerably to match theirs, but I found I enjoyed the camraderie of running the race together. I began to realize that perhaps I'd missed out on something in my solitary running endeavors of the past. My runs had always been a bit self-centered with a notable competitive streak. In some cases I'd been physically outmatched by my training partner, at other times, I was the stronger runner. In the former situation, I'd been unable to keep pace in the actual run, and in the latter, I'd been unwilling. My unspoken attitude was, don't let me hold you back, but I won't be waiting around for you either. But after the Disney run, I decided to try a different approach. I determined that in my next race, I'd run with my partner the whole way through.
So Erwin and I trained through the summer for the Emerald City Half-Marathon scheduled for Sunday, September 4, 2011 in the Columbus suburb of Dublin, Ohio. Our training was spotty; both of us traveled quite a bit, and missed a good many of our runs especially the crucial long runs. Three weeks out from race day, we had done one serious long run--seven miles a few weeks prior--and the most recent run had been a mere four miles. That Sunday morning we completed 8 miles. The following weekend, we ran seperately as I was out of town, and I did six miles while Erwin banged out a remarkable 12 miles. The weekend prior to the race, we ran 12 miles together at Blacklick Park and at that point we were ready as were ever going to be.
The Sunday morning of Labor Day weekend dawned cool and rainy. There had been thunderstorms throughout the night, and the possiblity of more threatened to postpone the start time. But the storm cells skirted Dublin and we began our race on time at 7:00 A.M. beneath glowering clouds spitting rain.
It turned out to be the perfect day for a run. The rain stayed at bay, but the partial cloud cover throughout the morning kept things cool and comfortable. Erwin and I started out on our goal pace of 11 minutes a mile (a goal that had been modified a number of times; our inconsistent training made our original goal of finishing in under two hours unrealistic). We dropped below it briefly around mile two or three and then something strange started happening. We started increasing our pace. I kept warning Erwin that we'd need to slow it down or we'd run out of steam at the end, but for some reason, as each mile passed we only kept running faster. Throughout the race we'd been using a system of running for ten or so minutes, walking for one minute, then running again for another ten. With this system, we'd been just behind the 2:20 pace group--almost catching them on the runs and then falling farther behind when we walked. But around the seventh mile, we caught up with the pace group, passed them and never saw them again, even when we walked.
I felt really good throughout the run, and though I think the run was harder on Erwin, he gave no hint of it during the race. He did some strong work that morning, and it felt really good to be able to encourage him to keep giving it his all. The encouragement went both ways too--a big part of the reason the race was easier for me was his companionship. Having someone to talk to, trade jokes with, helped the miles fly by. In many ways, this 13.1 miles felt like one of the shortest races I've run.
By the time we entered the home stretch, we were well ahead of our projected pace and had destroyed our previous times. In the final half mile, I faced the old temptation once again. A pair of runners--an older man and a younger woman--a father and daughter perhaps---that we'd been trading leads with for much of the race caught up with us. We'd passed them quite some time ago, and as our pace continued to increase, I was pretty sure that we wouldn't see them again. But apparently, they'd been holding back for a big push at the end. They cruised past us, not looking like they were trying too hard, yet eating up the distance anyway. The old competitive streak arose--I knew if we burned it out, we could catch them and pass them for sure. "You want to pick it up," I asked Erwin nonchalantly, not revealing my real motivations for a final big push. "No, it's okay. You can go ahead," Erwin replied, gracious as always. "No," I replied, determined, as I watched the pair of runners shrink in the distance, "We ran the race together, we'll finish together."
And so we did. 2 hours and 16 minutes, a pace of under ten and a half minutes per mile. We had run the distance faster than we ever had before, and we had done it together.
I think there is a place for running alone, competing against yourself, and pushing yourself to your personal best. I'm sure there will be future races were I once again do that. But I have also found that there is great joy and remarkable success in challenging and encouraging a friend, pushing one another to the best we can do together. Shoot, these days I'm beginning to think I might even consider running another marathon--as long as I'm not doing it alone!
"Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up."