One of the hardest decisions in moving to Atlanta was knowing I would be leaving behind my 25-year network of friends. These are friends that saw me through job changes (insurance adjuster, librarian, author, marketing maven), life changes (divorce, moves, dating), as well as were there for everything from my first published book to my first marathon to holding my hand when my cat died. A lot of years, a lot tears, much more laughter, and oodles and oodles of love.
In other words—not something easily replaced.
Of course, I’m not “leaving behind” friends but since the five-hour drive between Atlanta and Greensboro isn’t convenient for a quick movie or fro-yo meet-up, the burden is on me to make new friends.
The obvious place to make friends, for me, is the gym. I joined a big-ass Lifetime Fitness that has rows and rows of treadmills and shiny machines, as well as 50+ bikes in their spin room and classes every morning. Gym => sweat => bonding => friendships => DONE. Easy-peasy, right?
Not so much. Here’s the thing about those rows of machines. When you have 50 treadmills available, it’s like a movie theatre. You’re not going to sit down in an empty theatre in the open seat right next to the one person in there. So if I’m on the treadmill, 10 other people may be running as well, but we’re all spaced apart, headphones on, in our own little worlds.
So I’ll take some classes. Mmm… not a lot of morning talkers in the classes. It’s getting better. Over some snow days a determined five of us showed up and were like, “No class, what??” So the bonding has begun.
But what I really want—what I really, really, REALLY want, are runner-friends.
My first couple of weeks here, I messaged local running groups. I joined up with one group and discovered a great greenway. I loved the people and the route was beautiful but everyone was significantly slower than me. So I kept looking.
I had my eye on another group but between snow and ice and travel back to NC, I hadn’t been able to make a Saturday run. Yesterday, I finally had my chance. I texted the boyfriend Saturday morning that I was heading out to run and “troll for friends.”
BOOM. I think I hit gold. It was 34 degrees Saturday and still dark at 7 am, but about 12 runners showed up for 3, 6, 10 and 15-mile routes. Most of them are a slower pace than me, but there was one guy who is stupid fast (like 6:15/mile pace) and a young girl who had just moved here from California who is close to my pace, so the three of us started out with the larger group and then ran together. And afterwards, as all great running groups do, all paces huddled together in the parking lot, discussing our runs (my group saw a wolf chasing a deer—amazing) and the races we’re all training for.
A few of us stuck around for bagels and coffee and I was so happy I could have floated away. That’s my idea of a perfect Saturday morning—an early run with friends followed by carbs.
My mom asked if it bothered me that I may not have a pacing partner in the group. The answer is no, because that’s not really what a running group is about. I need a group to hold me accountable to show up on a Saturday morning, no matter what the weather. A group to chat with in the moments before the run, and stay with the first ½ mile or so as we all warm up into our paces. After that, I don’t mind running alone. Because I know at the end, there will be more chatting and laughing and friends waiting for me—or me for them. That’s the value of a group—the knowingness that you’re not out there alone, and that there’s a reason to “hurry back” to where the cars are parked.
You want to get there before all the good bagels are gone.