Words - Alex Dickinson, Photos - Zach Rotstein
My best friend Eric is one hell of a runner. When he was 13 years old, he placed third at the state cross-country meet against the state’s best 18 year olds. The following summer, we went out for a run together in the mountains where we grew up.
At the time, I was not a runner, and I’d never experienced anything so painful. It was the first time I heard my heart beating so hard and fast I thought it would pop out of my chest, but we shared a special and brotherly kind of friendship, so there was no way he was getting away from me. He knew exactly how much I was hurting, and he wasn’t going to let up, either. When we reached the top, I was so relieved, and then he ripped down the descent, striding over logs and rocks like a gazelle, and I learned that somehow going downhill could hurt more than going up.
He continued to run throughout high school, but injuries kept him from competing at his fullest potential. I picked the sport up competitively at the end of my junior year. I began performing well at half marathons and ran my first season of cross-country in college. We went to school in different states, but I called him anytime anything exciting happened and we spent time together or went on trips every break from school. Around that time, he began to get a bit out of shape. He ran for the club team at the University of Washington, but he was busy with a difficult major and not seriously competing. Every time I came home, we’d go out training together and I’d run his ass into the ground to pay him back for that first time.
Now that my collegiate running career is over, I spend more time cycling and practicing yoga. When I go out for runs with other XC alumni they ask, “Wait, it’s been how long since your last run?”
When we were kids and our parents let us take one friend on family vacations, we always chose each other. Last summer, he was planning on spending a week in Hawaii with his girlfriend, but when they split up the week before and he was left with an extra ticket, I was the first person he called. I couldn’t turn him down. I was a bit nervous when he asked me to go for a run on the first day, and he didn’t hesitate to let me know he was in shape.
“Let’s just go out for an easy one,” he said.
We started with about a seven-minute mile on the flat roads in Kona. That’s an easy day for a college runner, but my untrained quads and the muscles in my shins were already starting to burn. As we cruised along, he began ramping it up. Each split for the nine mile out-and-back was more than ten seconds faster than the last. By the time we turned around, the pace was about six minutes. We closed with two sub five-minute miles. A local on a bar patio said, “Holy shit,” as we glided by, and then laughter and cheering behind us.
I was right back on that mountain trail, my head pounding and legs full of lead, this time matching Eric stride for stride. I was reminded of the pain and triumph that drew me to the sport; the magic, blissful suffering that makes you feel more alive than anything. The next morning as we packed chairs and towels down to the beach I did my best to hide my limping and soreness. I caught him looking at me out of the corner of his eye, grinning as I winced down a stone stair. Friendship hurts.