Every Wednesday night for as long as I can remember (and since some time in the very early eighties in any case), my Mom and about ten other women have gathered weekly from 7 to 10pm. Growing up, I remember falling asleep to the sounds of cups clanking, women chatting and Dorothy H’s raucous laughter every time it was my Mom’s turn to host.
I’m not sure what initially brought together this fine group of women – not all the neighbourhood Moms were invited – but together they have supported each other unfailingly through highs and lows, births and deaths, divorce, illness, problem children and likely a whole spatter of secrets no one but them will ever know.
The group is a fine testament to the glory of strong female friendships.
Despite bearing witness to all this growing up, I never really had a large group of girlfriends. Sure, I had best friends and school friends and dance friends and, the closest I ever came, my riding camp friends with whom I spent many a summer, but I never experienced the true beauty of a solid group of female friends who – like The Babysitter’s Club (how’s that for a reference?!) – met regularly and supported each other always… Until I started trail running.
And then, suddenly, appeared a group of women who were supportive, encouraging, fun and strong as hell. I lived in France for over ten years before I started trail running and in that time I forged very few strong female friendships. Sure, I’ve got lots of acquaintances and friends “by default” like the partners of my partner’s friends or the mothers of my daughter’s friends – all lovely people who I enjoy seeing occasionally or having over for dinner, a drink or a weekend, but with whom I have no particular affinity, no desire to dream up crazy adventures or plan far-off getaways.
I don’t know if I can pinpoint the moment my running friends turned into my trail sisters – I suppose it was a gradual transition forged through regular meet-ups in sunshine, rain and snow. Through life snippets divulged in tough physical conditions when it’s not always clear whether it’s sweat or tears running down a person’s face – and doesn’t really matter anyhow. Through after-run drinks and trail retreat weekends. Through birthdays celebrated together and flowers sent when loved ones die. Through a shared passion for the outdoors coupled with the knowledge that we’ll make it through together, some faster, some slower, but always with words of encouragement and a big smile when you make it to the literal or figurative finish line.
My trail sisters range in ability level, age and place of origin. Some I see two or three times a week, others once or twice a year; there are even a couple I’ve only ever met online. A few weeks ago, one popped out of nowhere on her way to a trail run and quite literally saved the day when she rolled down her window and asked me if I needed a drive somewhere as I was frantically sprinting towards a public service exam. (Thanks to this unknown trail sister, I made it to the exam sweaty and panting – having run over 3km in everyday shoes, a hat and down jacket – with exactly 3 minutes to spare before they locked the door. Her generosity was based solely on the fact that she recognized me as a fellow runner and knew, given my frenzied pace, that I was in a bit of trouble.)
I think there’s something about our sport that brings out the best in most of us. It’s hard not to forge a bond when you sweat side by side on a mountaintop for hours, push yourself outside your comfort zone under the watchful eye of others or help someone else reach a goal or crush a personal record. When I’m in a rough patch in a race or struggling through a particularly gruelling interval session, I often conjure my trail sisters – both those I know well and others I admire.
For all the talk about women being catty, demeaning and jealous, I’ve found quite the opposite in my trail running experience. When I compete, it’s against myself. The others out there are not my opponents, they’re my inspiration! So, here’s a shout-out to trail sisters past, present and future – may we continue to support each other unfailingly in running and in life! May we share our victories and support each other in our defeats. Together, we make each other stronger.
*Full credit for coining this great title goes, as far as I know, to Gina Lucrezi and the awesome ladies over at Trail Sisters. The website offers a weekly dose of “Inspiration, Education and Empowerment” – can’t get much better than that!