Thoughts About Run­ning

By Madeleine Cum­mings Odd Cou­ples

Canadian Running - - FEATURES -


Chances are, most of your friends look a lot like you.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2013 Statis­tics Canada sur­vey, the ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans be­friend peo­ple who share their mother tongue, age, gen­der and ed­u­ca­tion level. This is true for men and women, across so­cio-de­mo­graphic groups, with young peo­ple lead­ing the way. Eighty-four per cent of young peo­ple be­tween 15–2 4 said their friends shared their age. Now take a look at the peo­ple you run with. In school, run­ners tend to train and com­pete against kids in their grade, but as time goes on, that pool starts to widen. That’s been my ex­pe­ri­ence, at least.

These days, I train along­side a univer­sity team, but our group also in­cludes post-col­le­giate run­ners, mas­ters ath­letes and ev­ery­one in be­tween. In each of the four cities I’ve lived in, my run­ning cir­cle has in­tro­duced me to peo­ple who are sig­nif­i­cantly younger and older than I am. Many of the friend­ships I’ve formed, thanks to this sport, are with peo­ple a few steps ahead of me in their lives. They in­vite me to dance at their wed­dings, eat din­ner at their first homes and hold their new­born ba­bies. Older friends who run con­tinue to in­spire me as they chase age-graded goals and keep feed­ing their com­pet­i­tive in­stincts. At 23, I at­tended a birth­day party for a friend who was thrilled to be turn­ing 40 be­cause it meant rac­ing in a new age cat­e­gory.

These friends help me with im­por­tant de­ci­sions and give great ad­vice on deal­ing with in­juries, but not all of my in­ter­gen­er­a­tional friend­ships fit the men­tor­ship mould. David, a 49-year-old friend of mine in New York, told me he be­lieves run­ning bridges the gap be­tween gen­er­a­tions by dis­solv­ing the power im­bal­ance that can arise at work. The two of us cor­re­spond by email about books, mu­sic and train­ing, but he re­sists the temp­ta­tion to be a con­stant guid­ance-giver. This sum­mer he started do­nat­ing $50 to Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders ev­ery time he gave me un­so­licited run­ning ad­vice. He called it a dou­ble win: “I can con­tinue to give you ad­vice, but with less guilt. Less of a suc­cess for you, but some­one had to lose in this deal.”

For Sue Rodgers, a 43-year-old run­ner in St. John’s, N.L ., the bond with her 22-year-old train­ing part­ner, Ben, tran­scends the many hours they spend train­ing and trav­el­ling long dis­tances to races. Her par­ents now con­sider “the young buck” a part of their fam­ily and each run­ner de­pends of­ten on the other for sup­port.

“He’s my re­la­tion­ship guru, he gives re­ally good ad­vice, and we talk about our fam­ily dy­nam­ics, our life goals and where we want to be,” Rodgers said.

Angie MacDon­nell, of In­ver­ness, N.S., told me that she has a train­ing group of four women whose ages span four decades. They’ve been run­ning to­gether – and chat­ting about their ca­reers and kids – for the past eight years, gath­er­ing of­ten be­fore the sun rises.

The women have also banded to­gether to pro­mote run­ning in their ru­ral com­mu­nity by co-or­di­nat­ing learn-to-run pro­grams for school­child­ren and draw­ing more par­tic­i­pants to their an­nual sum­mer road race.

These women are all at dif­fer­ent stages of their lives with dif­fer­ent re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at home and at work, but they share a love of run­ning and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for their scenic sur­round­ings. They log their long runs on a beau­ti­ful coastal road from which they watch the lob­ster boats har­vest­ing.

Ge­orgie Gil­lis, who is el­dest of the four, at 71, and ran a 2:01 half marathon in Moncton, N.B. in Oc­to­ber, in­spires the other three to stay ac­tive. In turn, she says, the oth­ers keep her feel­ing young. “When you have some­thing that you re­ally care about and you’re all com­mit­ted to, it helps keep you to­gether,” MacDon­nell said. With­out run­ning, their friend­ships likely wouldn’t be as strong.

There’s plenty of re­search on the health ben­e­fits of hav­ing mean­ing­ful friend­ships – they can re­duce stress and even lengthen our lives – but we know less about the ben­e­fits of in­ter­gen­er­a­tional friend­ships.

Ac­cord­ing to Cather­ine El­liott O’Dare, a PhD can­di­date at the School of So­cial Work and So­cial Pol­icy at Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin in Ireland, the lack of re­search could be par­tially due to a fo­cus on what so­ci­ol­o­gists call “ho­mophily” – the idea that birds of a feather f lock to­gether – as well as the widely held per­cep­tion that older adults are less suit­able friends be­cause they re­quire more care.

For her the­sis, O’Dare has been in­ter­view­ing adults over the age of 65 who have friends at least 15 years their ju­nior. The con­ver­sa­tions with her sub­jects have yielded nu­mer­ous sto­ries of strong re­la­tion­ships and mu­tual sup­port. What she heard to­tally de­fied the no­tion that the older adults were more de­pen­dent on the younger ones; in some in­stances the op­po­site was true. She asked them if the age dis­crep­ancy caused any hur­dles in their re­la­tion­ships, but “not one per­son could think of any down­side,” she said.

Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, the ma­jor­ity of these in­ter­gen­er­a­tional friend­ships were formed through mu­tual in­ter­ests, like swim­ming or pho­tog­ra­phy.

Run­ning, on its own, won’t nec­es­sar­ily widen the age range of your friend­ship pool, but seek­ing out peo­ple who love it too pretty much guar­an­tees it. Each is­sue, Edmonton-based writer Madeleine Cum­mings ex­plores some­thing new in the world of run­ning.

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