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Finding a place in the community

Yes, it was a bit cruel. I was supposed to bring back sunshine and warmer temperatures and instead upon my return from Miami, Buffalo was hit with another round of what seems to be endless winter storms.

My apologies to my friends who were counting on the sun. I guess it was confiscated in my checked luggage. Next time, I'll be sure to pack it in my carry-on.

Getting back to reality from a few days away is always challenging, particularly for someone like me, who still hasn't fully unpacked from the trip. It's even more difficult when changing climates. What, I need hat and gloves to run outside? My footing may not be solid?

Yes, I know. Poor me.

But one of the great things upon my return is getting back in touch with friends.

I had coffee with Sarah after swim practice the other day. We met through our coach and during last year's training session at Lake Placid. She is amazing, having completed Ironman Lake Placid twice and recently setting a PR at Ironman Arizona.

Sarah kicks some serious butt.

This was the first time in a long time we got to chat in person and the conversation included details about my run in Miami and her recent Ironman triumph. Sarah was sure to remind me not to downplay my accomplishments -- an easy trap to get into, especially when you're feeling the pain of a half marathon and she, um, ran an Ironman in about 11 hours.

But we also talked about lifestyle. About how some days we have to forgo the night out because we have an early morning training session the next day. Or how we think more about what we eat, even if we've moved away from the OCD of over-the-top nutrition fears into an approach of more moderation.

I have friends of all ilks and I cherish all of them, but the ones who end up staying prominent in my life tend to be the ones who are passionated about something. It can be running or triathlon or work or family, but there is something in their life that gets them out of bed in the morning. Connecting with Sarah over coffee in a post-swim workout haze helped me to see how many of those people I have in my life.

Of the many things that becoming an athlete has given me, a new circle of friends is pretty high on the list. Sounds obvious, but not always. I never was much of a "joiner" nor did I do well in groups. (I hated group work in school. I would much rather do a project independently.) The more I find people to train with-- either through happenstance or through joining an organized group -- the more connected I feel.

It's more than just about companionship on a long run, although I'm not knocking the company. It's about feeling part of something a bit bigger than yourself. It's about feeding off the energy of other people and having them pull you along when the doubts grow strong. It's about connecting to their stories and having a feeling that your story is finally clear to someone other than the voices living inside your own head.

I have a few more days of recovery left, which includes 45 minutes of light spinning and swim workouts. Then it's back to preparations for the Buffalo Marathon.

I'll cherish the stories that people tell me of their first marathon experience, or best or worst marathon experience for that matter. Hearing those stories, having those friends, means I'm part of a community now.

And I'm starting to feel like I belong.

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