My secret squad

“Oh my god, I need to sit down.”

We were on the subway wafter the New York City marathon. I was wrapped in my marathon poncho and was nearly crying tears of gratitude when there was an empty subway seat next to a girl wearing a marathon medal.

She slid over to make room for my as I collapsed.

“Thank you.”

“How’d you do?”

“I’m happy. What a race, eh?”

“Yeah! Um… would you mind if he took a picture of me? I didn’t get a good one with my medal.”

“Of course!”

My boyfriend was on the subway, standing next to us. He took her picture. We chatted about the route and the weather and marathon training until it was our stop.

“Congratulations!” I called as a limped out of the car.

Once we were outside, my boyfriend turned to me.

“How did you know her?”

I didn’t. I had never seen her before in my life. I’ll never see her again, and if I do, I’m not going to remember she was the girl who made room for me on the subway after my race.

But that doesn’t matter. Because we are in the same squad.

We run. And that’s enough.

This secret squad, of strangers connected over putting one foot in front of the other for hours on end, has been the biggest surprise and the best source of strength, since becoming a runner.

The random high five from a woman on a hot, sticky run in New Orleans.

The wave from a ace runner in the Don Valley when it freakishly hailed, but there was no way in hell we were cutting our long runs short.

The guy who, at 6:30am on a Sunday morning in downtown Manhattan, saw my running gear and wished me luck, as I headed to the subway on NYC marathon morning.

The nod from two elite runners – clearly in town for the PanAm games – who were out on a casual morning jog while I ran track repeats in Riverdale Park.

The volunteer who ran alongside me up the last major hill at 36k of the Halifax marathon, when I was pretty sure I was dying and questioning why I ever thought a marathon was a thing worth doing.

The runners who bought us a round in a random bar after the Chicago marathon because it was Canadian thanksgiving and they were shocked – and pleased – we’d run their hometown marathon instead of eating turkey in Canada.

This is my squad.

I didn’t start running for the social reasons. And even now, I mostly run alone. But those moments of connection – so random, from so many different kinds of people – are what make running bigger than a way to get fit. It turns strangers, even for an instant, into friends. Fellow runners.

There’s nothing like it. And they show up when you need them most. When you’re exhausted or nervous or completely dead or questioning why you ever started running in the first place or elated and want to share the moment with someone.

That’s what a squad is for.