I still remember the morning we met. It was dark and chilly, the only light coming from the parking lot lights at the YMCA. And though it was March (March 25, 2014 to be exact) it was still snowy and icy, keeping us in tights and gloves far later in the year than we had hoped.
We were cautiously optimistic. Though we met through social media, we had mutual acquaintances. People who could vouch for us. I was not a murderer, and you were not a stalker – at least according to our official criminal records.
On that day, we ran 3 miles together although we both ran longer – me logging miles before meeting you, and you adding a few more after. You told me that your pace was 9:30 or 10, maybe closer to 10. You were worried about slowing me down but my log has my run at a 9:21 pace.
You were strong, even then. You just didn't know it yet.
According to my running log, we didn't run again until May. We both had a full calendar of spring races and, maybe, were still a bit uncertain about each other. I feared you didn't like me even though I was desperate for a companion on my early morning runs.
But on the 15th, we went out for 5 miles. We did the same the next week. And the week after.
The summer of 2014 was a golden one. Each run seemed to be faster than the one before and when it wasn't, it was only because we added another mile to the route. Except for that one time when I was really bad at math and I added 2.5. After all, who doesn't love to run nearly 9 miles before work?
We spent those runs getting to know each other (we're basically the same person) and finding our footing as best running friends. Could we fart in front of each other? (Yes.) Could I cuss? (Hell yes.) Could I spend three miles debating the merits of the Brooks Ravenna versus the Saucony Fastwitch? (Of course.) Do we stop to pick up change on the sidewalk, even if it's just a penny? (No question.)
That summer, I felt like my wish came true. I had found a best running friend. Even today, with hundreds of miles under your FlipBelt, I am grateful that we found each other. That we clicked. We've been able to not just grow together as running partners but as "friends."
More than that, though, I feel honored that I have been able to see you grow as a runner and a person. Just you.
You are the same girl, yes, that I met 18 months ago but you have found a way to shine and believe in yourself. You are strong. You work hard. You know who you are (even if it's a little bit crazy sometimes).
You are fit. You are fast. You are a runner.
And on Saturday, when you toe the line in Akron, you are that girl. You belong there. You earned your spot. You will stand within sight of that 4-hour pacer and know that you have that time in you.
If, for a moment, you don't believe it ... I want you to remember that I do.
During the 26.2 miles, you will have times where the race feels so good that you will doubt that it should feel that good. You might think that you are doing it wrong. Remember: You aren't. You trained so that you can feel that way. It is not just OK to feel strong, it's expected. Because you are just that. Strong.
There might be miles, too, when everything feels like shit. I'm hoping that it's figuratively and not literally. We've been there, though, and you know what to do. You also know that it won't last forever. You can have a bad mile. You can have three if you want them. The number doesn't matter as those miles will not take away anything from your accomplishment. Not on Saturday and not in the 16 weeks that preceded it.
In the darkest of moments, you might feel alone. Surrounded by others taking the same journey, the roar of the crowd might fade and the bibs on singlets disappear. You are not. I will be with you. Step for step, fart for fart. If I eat the free chili from the cafeteria again, I might be ahead of you on the farts but that's nothing new.
But no matter what happens, you will make it to that finish line and, when you, do it's all you. Throw up your hands and celebrate. Celebrate the 26.2 miles and the journey to get there.