We both consider ourselves solo runners, rarely joining training groups. Running for us is more about trying to stay out of the mind trap. There’s something vulnerable about running with others. Feeling judged. Not wanting to hold people back.
September 2019: Kristen was on sabbatical in Canada, Chrissy needed a “race-cation” from studying, and a weekend adventure involving the Mad Moose Half Marathon in British Columbia seemed the perfect fit. But the rest of fall was solo, either training for an Ironman or trying to enjoy the cold Canadian winter.
As the pandemic started, Kristen was living in Mexico, returning to Flagstaff and a closed country in March. We registered for a virtual run before virtual runs were hip: the inaugural Run for the Trees, benefiting Michigan State Parks, in late April. Thus began our running alone, together, weekend runs.
It had to be a judgment- and competition-free zone for us to feel safe becoming running buddies, who often understand each other like others don’t. But now that we’ve taken that step, there’s no going back.
We’ve met at a variety of trails around Flagstaff most weekends since April 2020. We’re joined by Kristen’s trusty canine companion, Cinder, and we have a routine: Cinder whines until we start running, he and Kristen take off with Chrissy following behind, and Cinder judges us equally when we’re too slow for him. We track miles and times but aren’t overly concerned with either, stopping occasionally to check in from a distance.
After, Cinder gets treats and pets while we humans chat about work and life from at least 6 feet apart. We trade goodies (safely) out of the backs of our cars: produce, baked goods, orders of Skratch hydration mix.
Challenges arise and are taken up: Chrissy registered for a half marathon, and not to be left behind, Kristen did too. Soulstice? Definitely! A 10-miler with entry fees benefitting Black running groups? Sure! At least 1 mile a day for a whole month? Why not?!
There are stories: Kristen underestimating miles and taking wrong turns or showing up with two different shoes on. Chrissy breaking a finger in a car door while leaving for the trailhead. Both of us tackling the November snowstorm dressed appropriately, only to pick up what felt like 10 pounds of mud on our shoes.
Kristen: While I still enjoy my weekday solo runs, I now appreciate running “with” a partner. We hold each other accountable, provide support during challenging times (there have been some this past year!) and compare notes (Did you fall down? See the elk?).
Chrissy: The odd weekend without a run “together” feels incomplete now. It’s not really about the run. It’s about the time outside, getting lost, picking each other up on the trail, finding the stories yet to come. It’s about the human connection, even from 6 feet away.
This pandemic year has been challenging, but our runs have been a weekly high point. Even after the chaos has passed, you’ll find us out on the trails and roads around Flagstaff running alone, together.
Kristen Waring, a forestry professor at NAU, has been running and hiking the Flagstaff area since 2006. Chrissy Mott is a full-time PhD student in forestry and a part-time triathlete and trail runner.
The coordinating editor of High Country Running is Julie Hammonds (email@example.com).