ONE chilly afternoon in November, three Malaysian women sat side by side on a pavement just outside Central Park in New York City.
They had medals around their necks, engraved with the words “The New York City Marathon 2011”.
Although too tired to show any emotion, each was delighted to have accomplished their goals and grateful to have each other’s company. I know this for certain, because I was one of them.
For several months prior to that day, I trained and organised my trip with the other two women, Nanaand Selly.
As we ran together, we shared our New York dreams and worries with each other. If I were to list one thing that I was most thankful for from the experience, it would probably be the continuous support I received from both of them.
Our journey, right from Day One, was a great testament to friendship and the spirit of running.
The writer (centre) with her friends Ilyanna Aylin Ayob (left) and Selina A. Aziz (that's me!)
after completing the New York City Marathon last year
Before my New York chapter, I used to train on my own. With the exception of the occasional weekend group run, I did most of my weekday runs in solitude. I thought running solo suited me best as I did not have to adjust my schedule to accommodate others.
However, when Nana asked me if I wanted to train together for the marathon, I told myself to give it a go. Looking back, I’m glad I made the decision.
As our four-month training began in the month of Ramadan, we had no choice but to run in the evenings. Right from the start, I saw the advantage in training with others.
Having friends to run with increased my personal safety. I couldn’t have gone out to run unaccompanied after dusk. If it were not for them, I probably would have opted for the treadmill for the entire fasting month. That would not have been enjoyable.
Training together also became an excellent means of motivation for me, particularly during our long runs. Having friends to chat with removed the negative voices in my head, the ones that suggested that I shouldn’t go any further or push myself harder. With great company, time seemed to pass by so quickly. Before we knew it, we had covered 16km to 32km together.
There were days when it was tough for me to put my running shoes on and get out there. If I was alone, I would have made 101 justifications to skip my runs when I wasn’t really in the mood. However, knowing that my running partners were depending on me, eliminated these excuses. Thanks to them, the accountability and persistency of training together kept me on track, every day.
Also, I had a tendency to kick my speed up a notch when running with others. My friends seemed to share the same sentiment. I suppose it’s in our nature to instinctively compete with the person next to us. By running together, we kept our pace up and pushed ourselves further than we would if we were running alone. To me, that was a good thing.
Having said all this, I still made a point to run solo every once in a while. There were days when I wanted to have my personal space and to entertain my own thoughts.
When I had issues that I wanted to deal with, I would sweat it out alone. Besides, running long distances all by myself, with no conversation to distract me from pain or from the distance, would build my mental toughness.
I would say that the most valuable lesson I learnt from my New York experience was that training with partners was more than just about security, accountability or a way to prompt myself to run. It was about camaraderie. I considered myself fortunate to have partners who not only shared the same fitness level, goals and training ethics, but also knew how to get the best out of me, and vice versa.
In October, Nana and I will be fulfilling our dream to complete yet another marathon major, the 2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
In a few months, it will be time to start training seriously for the event. Without doubt, I won’t be having second thoughts about training with Nana once again, for there is nothing sweeter than chasing and realising a dream with someone close to you.
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