Kim Cowart
From left to right: Shelly Slippey, Joe Lohmeier, Shannon Cabrero, Scott Freimuth, Rendi Freimuth, Cindy Jacobson and Kim Cowart at the Riverton Half Marathon.

It took me three months to learn how to french braid hair.

It took me a year to learn how to share pictures from my iPhone.

It took me two years to learn how to ride a two-wheel bike.

It took me seven years after getting my driver’s license to learn how to drive a stick-shift.

I still don’t know how to work my Kindle Fire.

My point is, I’m not a quick learner. Just ask my kids who are always requesting complicated meals for dinner, i.e. meals that require more than four ingredients and two steps to make.

Eventually, though, I do learn, and this weekend I learned a lesson that’s been staring me in the face for four years now. The lesson? It’s not about the running.

Let me explain. Since I started running seriously four years ago I have loved it. I had run off and on in the past, but for some reason I couldn’t pinpoint, this time running spoke to me in a way it never had before. Actually, it was screaming for me and I was happy to answer the call.

My husband always asks what it is about running now that I love so much. My answers vary depending on my mood or my last run. Sometimes I love being in nature. Sometimes I love the feeling of accomplishment after a difficult run. Sometimes I just love that I can indulge in food that I otherwise couldn’t.

The problem with those answers is that I experienced all of those things in my earlier spurts of running, but they were never enough to keep me running.

These days, however, despite injuries, pain, disappointments and time constraints, I just can’t let running get away from me as I had before. So what is it about this sport that has such a grip on my heart?

The people.

It has become obvious to me over the past year that it’s the friends I’ve made on the road, both literally and figuratively, that keep me coming back for more. Whether it’s tackling a long, difficult training run with my friend Walter, or riding the bus with Marie to the marathon start line, it’s other runners that make it all so addictive.

What finally opened my eyes to this lesson was my experience at the Riverton Half Marathon.

My husband was out of town chaperoning a high school baseball team in California. My brother was taking care of my daughters while I ran. My parents were out celebrating my dad’s birthday. All this meant that my steady support system was M.I.A. for this race. I expected that to put a damper on the event since the best part of any race is sharing the experience with those you love.

But I wasn’t alone. It was my friends that talked me into running the race in the first place — namely the energetic chipmunk known as Shannon whom I had met at the Lake to Lake Relay just a month earlier.

Then she introduced me to her husband, her brother, her mother and another runner friend, Joe, a first-time half-marathoner she had met the previous week. We were then joined by our fellow Lake to Lake girls, Rendi and Shelly, along with Rendi’s husband and their friend, Cindy.

While I ran, they cheered. While they ran, I cheered. At the finish line we hugged and congratulated each other. Along the way I saw a dozen other friends I’ve been running with and even a guy from my old high school days.

As I talked with Joe, he said something that stuck with me. “For the eight months I’ve lived here, I’ve rattled around this town alone. Not anymore.”

The running community is something of a paradox. We’re a tight-knit group, but we're the most open and welcoming group you’ll ever find. We may compete like animals on the course, but in the same instance congratulate each other for our accomplishments. We are all rock stars in each other’s books.

The poet Robert Frost famously wrote:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

"I took the one less traveled by

"And that has made all the difference.”

For me, the opposite is true. I took the road most traveled by, and it made all the difference.

It’s not about the running — it’s about the runners.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner and now the proud owner of the coolest Riverton Half Marathon wagon-wheel trophy.