Anne with friend, competitor, and sometimes training partner Annette Bednoskey

One of the best things about running is the flexibility. It can be as solitary or social as one desires. I definitely dig the solo runs, when it’s just me and the trail (or my tunes, if it’s an iPod sort of day). I’m also blessed to live in an area in which there are all sorts of group runs — on the track, on the trail, even one that starts (and more importantly, finishes) at a local brewery. But over the years, some of the runs I’ve come to appreciate the most are those shared with a training partner.

While it can be great fun to run with someone new every day, there’s something special that develops when you make the effort to run consistently with the same person. Gone is the stress that comes with wondering whether your paces will be compatible, or whether the other person will talk too much, or if you’ll have things to talk about at all. What develops is a comfortable familiarity that develops over time, in which a conversation left over from last week can be resumed without pause, and you instinctively know that your partner’s going to grind past you on the next hill but that you’ll catch her on the down.

I’ve had lots of training partners over the years, each relationship different depending on where I was in my running and my life. Some of these folks were people whom I never would’ve gotten to know if it weren’t for our shared passion for running. There was Paul — older, more experienced on the trails and in the profession we had in common. He served as a mentor of sorts on our Saturday long runs, introducing me to the trails of WNC and imparting professional and life wisdom. Brooke, the free spirit whose stories and humor entertained me as we made our way through the darkened early morning streets of North Asheville. Becky, the unbelievably fast college runner who let an old lady tag along on her track workouts and tempo runs. She helped my speed, for sure, and I hope that maybe I served as some sort of post-collegiate role model for her.

Nowadays my most consistent training partner is Nicole. Our runs aren’t particularly long or speedy, but that doesn’t matter. Each Wednesday we meet at the trailhead and for the next hour or so we catch up on life — kids, careers, relationships. We trade training tips, recipes, and fashion advice. Some days, tears are shed as our run becomes a moving therapy session, and other runs are spent celebrating our latest athletic feats or strategizing for an upcoming race. Regardless, it’s a special connection, one that might not have developed off the trail.

For me, every run serves a purpose. Sometimes I run to “train”, sometimes for the scenery, sometimes as an escape from everyday stressors. The runs with my training partner are time to connect, to share in the joy and the pain of running – and of life.

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