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Karen and I get to meet and run with St. Joan, aka, Joan Benoit Samuelson.

As part of our training for the Beach to Beacon 10k, my running buddy Karen Fortier and I had the great honor to run with the race founder and one of our running heroes – Joan Benoit Samuelson. We met up at Back Cove in Portland, Maine, to run the 5K distance around the bay together. During the run Joan told us a story about how people used to notice her running throughout their neighborhood and how, by doing so, she had inspired a few others in the neighborhood to start running as well. In her words, “you never know who you will inspire to run because people do notice when you’re out running around.” To this, both Karen and I agreed because our running story,  how it came to be that we have run together now for over six years, is this exact story.

Who is that woman who looks so strong running around our neighborhood?

Back in 2009, as I was recovering from Lyme Disease, I developed a plan to run the NYC marathon in November 2010. The only problem was that I had never run further than a 10k and knew I needed some help and support if I was actually going to be able to accomplish this. I knew my friend Martha had signed up to run NYC with me, but she lived in Massachusetts,  making it unlikely that we would do any of our long runs together. But I had noticed this woman running around my neighborhood. She always looked so strong and fast. In my mind, she had to be some kind of elite runner, way out of my league. I kind of wished I knew who she was. Maybe she would even consider running with me, but then again, how would you go up to a total stranger and ask them that? How was I going to approach her? Ambush her on one of her runs? That would seem crazy and maybe a little creepy. There had to be some way, though I just didn’t know what that would be. And then fate presented an opportunity;  as luck would have it, that year both of our sons were on the same Little League baseball team, woot, woot!  Now all I had to do was plan my moment during a lull in one of the games, introduce myself,  and start the conversation.

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Karen and me doing speed workouts at Thornton Academy at 5am during the summer months.

Is that you I noticed running around our neighborhood?

This seemed like the most sensible question to ask her – and to my great surprise she answered yes. I told her I had noticed her running and how confident and strong she looked. I asked if she had much experience running and she told me she’d been running for over 20 years. In my book, that’s a heck of a lot of experience! I asked if she had ever run a marathon before and she again replied in the affirmative. I then told her about my plan to run NYC and asked the million dollar question – would you consider helping me out by running with me?

The standing joke – Sure, I’ll run 20 miles for no particular reason

I think I was partially stunned and partially incredulous when she said, “yeah, sure, I’ll run with you to help you out.” (like seriously, who in the right mind runs 20 miles with a stranger for no particular reason- SHE wasn’t training for a marathon…) Her reasoning was that having trained for and run a marathon, no one should have to face the long runs alone, especially someone with as little running experience as I had at the time. And so this great running relationship began. When we started to build the mileage and she would turn up every long run, I’d look at her surprised, as if to say, “You really came? You’re really going to run 20 miles with me for no particular reason?” Karen would tell me stories along the runs to keep me entertained and to stop me from thinking how much further we had to run. On long runs, she cheer me on with chants she created, she’d clap her hands, sing, anything she could think of to encourage and motivate me. And with Karen by my side, I did develop the confidence I would need to successfully run the NYC marathon. (How do you ever adequately thank someone for that?)

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Last training run together before the 2014 Boston Marathon. Karen, me, Lara aka The Fav and Lisa.

 Recruiting new runners along the way

There is something very special about the gift of running. It is a gift that people enjoy sharing and bonding over. Stories are told along the runs, problems are solved, household crisis are managed, laughs are had, and occasionally a few tears are shed. As we continued to run together, Karen introduced me to her friend Lara, and I introduced her to my friend Lisa, and together we became the Four Musketeers. We developed a friendship that goes beyond running alone, yet running bonds us together and unites us in a common cause. We made qualifying for the Boston Marathons one of our goals and together we were there volunteering at the finish line in 2013. We have since successfully trained for and run the 2014 Boston Marathon together. We have added new friends to the group as well, introducing me to the Mighty KB who has become a regular in our running group (well, when she’s not a soccer taxi mom).

Karen, me and the mighty KB on one of the coldest runs of my life, February 2015, training run for the Virgin Money London Marathon.

Karen, me and the Mighty KB on one of the coldest runs of my life, February 2015, training run for the Virgin Money London Marathon.

Hey, so what’s our next challenge?

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All-season running mate – Me and Karen, January 2016

Right now we are all training to run the Maine Coast 1/2 Marathon on May 15, 2016. My long-term plan is to train to run the Berlin Marathon this September. Karen and co will no doubt train along with me as they love nothing more than to get up in the dark to lace up and run 20 miles for no particular reason. And for that I am so, so, so grateful! Who knows, maybe one day someone will notice me running around my neighborhood and I’ll be asked to pay it forward. Should that day come, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do!

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