By Ashley Arnold
When I think about my favorite racing experiences over the years, a partner stage race I did several years ago with my sister, Lauren, stands out above the rest. And it wasn't necessarily the race itself that stands out. To be honest I don't remember all that much about the course or the views. But rather, I remember sharing the whole experience with Lauren. Suffering with her. Pushing with her. Rejoicing with her as we crossed the finish line holding hands and smiling emotions overflowing as we reflected on our journey together.
Growing up, Lauren and I weren't all that close. We had different friends and separate lives with almost three years between us. As adults, though, we grew closer. Mostly bonding over our love of running. And so when the opportunity arose to run a stage race together, it felt appropriate. It felt important. We signed up.
Running side by side (well, actually mostly single file because we were on mountain singletrack much of the time), our relationship deepened, we pushed ourselves farther and harder than we could on our own and, dug deep into "the pain cave" past "the wall" thanks to our combined drives to run hard. Most importantly, though, we finished with a fresh sense of closeness that only a challenging experience could provide.
"Pain is a central part of what it means to be human and what makes us happy." That's a quote from social psychologist Brock Bastian who has been studying pain and bonding for several years now. He's found through his studies that on the tails of painful experiences, we find ourselves more alive, more present and more alert. And so I can infer that, in situations like the race I ran with my sister, the aliveness that we found out there allowed us both to be more available to connect ... our connection being the shared difficult experiences that unified us. To this day our relationship is different because of it.
And while running is often categorized as a solo endeavour, is it really? On race day, we are all out there together, aren't we? We're all out there running the same course, feeling the same (or similar) lead in our legs, fire in our lungs as we push for a PR. In this way, we sort of bond with our competitors because they help us push harder. But we're not always on their team. We still want to beat them.
I've raced against my sister more times than I can count. And every time I wanted to beat her. And that pushed me harder to do my best, that allowed me to go to a deeper place of pain, but it didn't really link us together any more than that.
But when we ran as a team the tables suddenly shifted.
The same goes for a relay-type race like Ragnar Relays where you have a team that trades off "legs" rotating one by one while the rest of the team cheers transform running into a team sport. And everyone I know that has ever run a race like Ragnar, has walked away with a new group of close friends. A running family that provides motivation, brain oxygenated conversation and, of course, an inherent social group all doing something positive together. And why wouldn't you want to do that?
Like Lauren and I, if you run a relay race, and I think you should, you'll be glad you did. Because you are part of a unit. Because you are not alone. Because sharing difficult experiences with people teaches us valuable lessons we may not learn anywhere else. Seriously, I encourage you to add it to your bucket list.
... I have shared my experience. And now, we'd love to hear yours.