I like to run with friends. The small talk and chatting helps the miles pass relatively unnoticed and, even better, it kills two birds with one stone: social interaction, check; physical action, check. And it leaves me more time in the day to chase the Menchildren around. Exactly what I need. But I have to admit that running with friends doesn’t always push my body and brain like they need to be pushed. It’s too easy to slow down so the chatting is unencumbered, and, of course, scheduling conflicts often make it impossible to run with a buddy all the time. Which is when it is nice to find a running “buddy.” Some unsuspecting person in shorts and an iPod. Someone who runs about your pace, maybe a little bit faster. I find it is best if there is some sort of back-and-forth to start things off. You know, he passes me while I wait for a light, then I pass him on the straightaway. Then he passes me and I pass him. And he passes me and I pass him. Several more times. It heightens the drama, gets the blood pumping a little more, raises the stakes. I’ve found my “buddy.”

Eventually, it gets to the point where he catches a light I miss, because I’m careful like that. I have to be with the Menchildren in the stroller. And he gets away. I have to wait a long time. I wonder if I can catch him. I’ve got a three mile loop to make up for the few minutes I’ve been stuck waiting for the light. I’ve got to catch my buddy. So when the light turns, off I go, pushing the stroller, pushing my legs past the point of the easy run.

It’s hot, humid, later in the day than I had planned. I wonder if I should stop for some water. If I do, I may never see the 7 on the back of the shirt that means I’ve found my buddy. I’m sure he’d be happy to see me and my stroller again. So I keep going. Down the hill, around the pond, past the playround. Almost 2 miles in, and finally I see him. Several yards ahead. I’m pretty sure I can take him by the time we hit the hill. And then, bless him, he stops at the drinking fountain. I wonder if I should stop, too. I have some water in the stroller, so this isn’t my only chance. If I stop now, he might ditch me again, and then what kind of buddy would he be? So I keep going. I figure if I’ll give him some motivation to put some sauce on it.

But I’m coming up on the hill, and it would be foolhardy to take it on without some refreshment. I pull off. He’s not too far back. I take a quick drink and throw the water bottle back in the stroller basket. He’s within a few yards. I pull back on. Did I cut him off? I hope not. What kind of running buddy would I be if I did that? But just in case, I want to make sure I don’t hinder him any more than I already have. I kick it up the hill. I’d hate to see the back of that shirt again before we get home. And yet. I’m sweating. My legs are gone. I’m using the stroller to keep from falling to the ground. Do I dare slow down? Do I give him the chance to pass me? Nah. I like to pretend that I am his motivation. And I keep thinking he’s right behind me, so I keep going, keep pushing. I make it to the top. He hasn’t passed me. The rush gets me the rest of the way home.

He’ll never know what new speeds and lengths and levels of pride he pushed me to. What a great buddy.

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