On the rare occasions we run together, it’s generally only for a few miles. She will urge me on ahead or turn around before I’m ready to go back. During our too-infrequent visits, she will wake and run early in the morning, come home to find me still logy from sleep and foraging through her fridge for something to eat. There is, in her fridge, always something good to eat.
We have never entered the same race. We have never trained together or stepped onto the same track. We have never lived in the same place—not the same state, not the same side of the Mason-Dixon line. Now we are separated by mountain ranges and big rectangular states and three time zones. And yet, if you ask me who is my best running buddy, I will tell you Candace Karu.
We met at the 25th anniversary party for Running Times. I had quit my job in order to try to write full time and had no idea how to go about doing that and was living on popcorn and the generosity of ex-boyfriends and was, pretty much, a mess. I’d sent a bunch of unsuccessful pitches to the magazine, and had had a few pieces published, but I was far from supporting myself. When I received the invitation I had no intention of attending, but my mother urged me to make the trip and offered to pay my expenses. With maternal optimism she said you never know what might come out of it.
Candace, then editorial director of the magazine, had read my unsuccessful pitches and saw something in me. We chatted at the party and afterward she emailed. I answered. She responded. We found each other.
In middle age making new friends can be as easy as splitting the atom. Everyone’s busy, everyone’s full up. Over the years, my running groups have brought new people into my life, some I’ve become close to, others I’m always happy to run with, but don’t see when I’m injured or lazy. Running together gives you dedicated time to get to know each other, to tell the stories that elucidate and explain who you are and how you’ve become that person. Candace and I had to carve out that space without the benefit of being together on the roads or the trails. Our friendship is the result of effort made easier by technology.
We once talked the entire time it took her to drive from her home in Maine to Connecticut. She sent me plane tickets to come to her shelter-porn beautiful home, and Pretty Woman-ed me with hand-me-down Prada cashmere sweaters. For years she has listened to me, talked to me, taught me things. I am a demanding friend, often challenging innocuous statements and batting and battering ideas around. From Candace I learned to be gentler; from me she learned to stand tougher. We’ve nurtured and cultivated our friendship, weeding and harvesting in equal measures. It’s taken work, the way all good relationships do; we have had to compose our own language of love, learning how to respond to unintended hurts and ricocheted communications.
We each started running as adults, both brainy girls who had not identified as athletes. We changed our rituals, reshaped our bodies, traveled to race and raced to cure our emotional wounds. Running filled a need within each of us, and it brought us together in a way that goes beyond our many other shared interests and tastes. We function like teammates, and experience the other person’s success as our own. We acknowledge when that happiness is laced with jealousy; by saying it, it goes away and all that remains is pride.
Candace is the person I want to talk to after a race. Her comments, astute and insightful, never echo like the empty praise of non-runners and friends who are less thoughtful in their support. She knows the industry in ways I never will, understands how to get the stink out of technical fabrics, teaches me words (I can’t say “shimmel” without thinking of her), and hands me down lots and lots of clothes. We track each other’s training when that’s what’s important, and don’t ask about when things are not going well, or life has trumped our abilities to log miles.
Many great lines have come from bad movies and mediocre TV. Candace said to me once, as Meredith said to Christina on Grey’s Anatomy, “You’re my person.” Candace is my person. She’s my best friend, and also my best running buddy, even though we rarely run together.