When I started running years ago, I set out with the goal of getting in shape, but I didn't realize how much of my life would change. My sleep schedule suddenly adapted to early-morning runs, my social schedule transitioned to running dates instead of happy hours, and my Sunday mornings included a lot more requests to delay brunch because I had a race to tackle first.
But one thing I did not expect to come out of running was a deeper connection to faraway friends. The first few years I regularly ran, I noticed that while much of the support I received came from close friends and family, a large portion of it came from friends who lived miles away. And many of those reaching out were friends I hadn't spoken to in years.
As I continually became more comfortable sharing my run journey on social media, those connections only increased. I'd receive numerous messages or comments about racing, what shoes I wear, my training, if I run when it's cold, and just general kudos after racking up race bib after race bib. One friend asked me for advice on how to start running for the first time. Another made a special trip to cheer me on during a marathon I ran in her hometown. A third friend I hadn't seen in 10 years was (and still is) consistently one of the first to congratulate me on social media after each race I finished. Because of running, my support group only grew, and those friends who could've easily faded into the past became some of my biggest cheerleaders.
It wasn't a one-way street, either. I also found myself becoming more tuned into those friendships I had neglected. I all of a sudden noticed that friend I once sat next to in class who posted an Instagram of her last half-marathon or the former sorority sister who mentioned she'd just signed up for her first 5K. Ultimately, I found myself eager to connect and remind others that they, too, have a faraway friend in me.
At first, I assumed it was the wonder of social media that fueled this. But after a while, it occurred to me that while social media was the vehicle for those friends to initially reach out, it was really running that prompted them to do so. These friendships were revived because of my sport, not because anyone woke up one day and decided to go through their contact list and send out some random texts. Running became the perfect way to bridge those forgotten friendships. It was the common language that reconnected and gave life back to relationships that normally would suffer from time and distance.
Today, I actively look for new ways to use running to foster relationships. When a close friend of mine recently moved away, I suggested we motivate each other to complete our training runs by sending each other sweaty selfies at the end. And just now, my smartwatch buzzed with a notification: "Laura completed her workout." Laura is a friend I grew up with who could've easily disappeared into my past. But after silently following each other's lives for years, we recently reconnected over our love of fitness. Now we share our activity data via our watch apps and can see each other's hard work. I went from speaking to her once a year to knowing the second she completes her workout — and she lives 1,900 miles away.
I knew running would be a gateway to so much, but I never knew it would be a catalyst for relationship building. What once was a solo activity I started to get in shape has now allowed me to reconnect and maintain relationships. It might just be a more valuable gift than any race medal.