I’m not terribly social. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I am terrible at being social. Either way, when I first started running, I ran alone. No one in my family or my training group ran my pace, and instead of seeking out someone new, I kept to myself. While I trained for my first half-marathon, I listened to podcasts to keep my brain entertained and distracted as I trudged through mile after mile.

After more than a year of running solo, one day I found myself running alongside some new Rogues. They were chatting and laughing and suddenly I was … included. No longer did I run alone to the track or the hill or whatever meeting place on Tuesday nights. We waited for one another to finish our workouts before running back together. On Saturday long runs, we didn’t always stick together all of the time, but we started together, met up at water stops, and celebrated together with coffee afterward. Hell, sometimes our coffee dates lasted longer than our runs.

Soon we were carpooling to races, talking each other into participating in races (I’m looking at you, Zilker Relays and BCS Half Marathon), and supporting each other through races. One time a small posse waited just before mile 12 of the 3M Half Marathon (and another friend ran with me that last mile), when I was injured, undertrained, and miserable. At the 13-mile marker, friends who had finished long ago waited to cheer me to the finish line. I turned in a personal-worst time that day, but friendship—not misery–is the memory that sticks with me.

Along the way, a few friends have taken breaks from running and new friends have joined. These days I’m woefully behind on my podcasts, but I run with a core group of women on a regular basis. Honestly, anyone who can listen to tales about our lives, rants about our jobs, and strings of complaints and colorful language deserves the title of Best Running Friend.

These BRFs dragged me through double-digit long runs. They pushed me to keep going when I wanted to stop, and walked with me when the sun sapped my energy and walking was all I had left. We ran together before sunrise and after sunset. They paced me to several PRs. They ran with me in the rain, in temperatures below freezing and over 100, up hills and on the track. They told stories, and they listened. And sometimes no one said a word.

Not every BRF lives near me. One year, I trained with a friend from Ohio solely via text. We only saw each other in person on race day, in Cleveland. Then there was the friend who flew to Austin, barely escaping Snowmageddon, to run the last two miles of the 3M half with me, pushing me to a huge PR.

And not every BRF runs at all. My family has perfected the art of race support, delivering me to the start, carrying my stuff, and meeting me at multiple points along the course. My son has run the last leg of several distance races with me while my husband waited at the finish line with a recovery beverage. And let’s not forget waking up on race morning to Facebook posts and texts wishing me good luck from all over the world.

But here’s the thing. My BRFs are more than people I run with twice a week. They have made me a stronger person—physically and mentally. Those winter mornings when I wanted nothing more than to sleep late, I remembered that they were waiting. When I wanted to run through a sprinkler to cool off, they joined me. When I felt weak after a sluggish workout, I thought about that time a BRF called me badass. And when I was in a tough place midway through my 10-mile race last weekend, I envisioned the disappointment they’d feel if I fell short of my goal, which motivated me to pick up my pace. Because of them, I beat my goal by more than a minute.

Most people think of running as a solo sport, and often that’s true. Sometimes I need that time alone, either with my thoughts or drowning those thoughts with blaring music. And I’m not always the easiest person to run with. Or be friends with, for that matter. But my BRFs stick with me anyway, pushing me to be a better runner, a better human… and a really fun post-run coffee date.

About the Author: Melissa Cooper started running in 2011 with Couch to 5K. In the summer of 2012, in what seemed like a leap, she joined Rogue Running and completed her first half-marathon–San Antonio Rock and Roll–later that year. Finishing San Antonio was supposed to be a one-time bucket list thing, but these days her half-marathon total is at double digits (and climbing). Her favorite race distance is probably the ten-miler. By day, she is a middle school teacher who juggles work and life and running—sometimes even successfully.