Those who know me now the degree of my introversion, the strength I gain from time alone, and the enjoyment I find in hours of wilderness solitude. Recently, though, I’ve been rediscovering the power of companionship in sport.
My roommate of three months, Jordan, is an avid cyclist and speed hiker, and through his implicit motivation I’ve found myself inspired to get to the mountains more frequently and, more importantly, to push myself harder once there. For too long had my trail runs degraded into relaxing and slow, albeit physically and emotionally valuable, jaunts through the forest. Now I’ve found myself red-lining and testing limits consistently for the first time in years, remembering the pleasure that comes from fully exhaustive effort and the consequent improvements in fitness.
A few weeks ago, the Seattle Mountain Running Group gathered for one of its largest events, a group run through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Five of us chose our route past Pratt Lake and Lower Tuscohatchie Lake en route to Kaleetan Lake. The energy of the group helped those four hours pass like two as we traversed the miles.
Without doubt, one highlight of the year so far was a run/hike up Granite Mountain with Jordan and my oldest friend, Chris. Growing up nearly as brothers from age four, the outdoors was never a cornerstone of our friendship, but having the opportunity to join each other at the 5600′ summit was, I’d like to the think, the beginning of a new chapter in our relationship even as he prepares to move to Los Angeles.
Yesterday I joined what had to be 40 other runners to preview the last 23 miles of the White River 50, a race I’ve run the past two years. I carpooled down with an old high school teammate, her dad, and her husband for a very fun car ride; ran over 2.5 hours with Roger, making his 50 mile debut in three weeks at WR50; and thoroughly enjoyed sharing mountain time with so many new and old friends on a gorgeous route I’d be unlikely to travel alone.
Perhaps the greatest constant reminder of the power of camaraderie in sport is my time coaching the high school cross country team. Summer training began last week, and seeing some 20 kids showing up two months prior to the season, falling into groups of 2 to 6, and training hard with smiles on their faces always brings me back to my days running on a team. It’s easy to forget to appreciate what an amazing experience it is to be a member of such a team at the time, but in my years and years of individual training since, I pine for the days of showing up six days a week and always having a whole slew of your best friends there to train with and motivate you.
I still love my mountain solitude, and surely the majority of my big mountain miles will still be completely in the silence of nature, but I am certainly enjoying that extra kick to get off the couch and the happiness that comes from sharing beautiful experiences with friends.