If you really want to get to know someone, go on an 18-mile run or an 80-mile bike ride with them. Ask anyone training for an endurance sport, and they'll tell you training rides and runs turn into true friendships.
Take, for example, Jody Green and Amy Cherko. Two years ago, they didn't know each other. Now they know everything about each other and then some.
When Green and her husband moved to Omaha in 2008 for their careers, she had no intention of running very much, but wanted to meet people. She joined a local gym and its running club.
Green literally crossed paths with Cherko, a native Omahan, at a number of local races, and the two finally set a running “date.”
“Just like a first date, we chatted throughout the six-mile run,” Green said.
As their friendship grew, so did their love of long-distance running. Cherko was part of Green's support crew when Green ran a 31-mile race in Brainard, Neb., in the fall of 2011.
“That all-day, selfless and generous display of friendship solidified a friendship I've never had before in my life,” Green said. “Since then, we train together, volunteer together, or crew/cheer one another during an event.”
Even though running isn't a team sport, Green and Cherko believe the sport is far from being about one individual.
“I think there's a bond between runners because we all know how hard it can be to find time to train,” Cherko said. “We know what it's like to feel crappy on a run and how much a little support from friends can really make a difference.”
The bonds formed between endurance athletes come naturally, according to John Noble, an associate professor in the University of Nebraska at Omaha's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.
“They have similar interests and are more than generally passionate about their sport,” he said. “They love it so much they're instantly tied together.”
Noble, himself an ultra-marathoner and triathlete, said endurance athletes want to talk about all aspects of training and races all the time.
He said endurance athletes have such a welcoming community for runners and cyclists of all abilities because they want to spread the joy.
“They want everyone to love it. They want to share their experiences and want others to get the same enjoyment,” Noble said.
Making friends and meeting people to train with in the Omaha area is much easier than the strenuous workouts that come with preparing for races and events. With social media, you can find a group in seconds. You can look for training opportunities with the Omaha Endurance Group, G.O.A.T.z (Greater Omaha Area Trail Runners), Team Nebraska Triathletes, Omaha Running Club and any of the cycling groups in the area.
The Dundee Chain Gang Cycling Club has 350 members.
Co-founder Craig Kelley of Omaha believes the group is so large because “we have no dues and membership that is happy to help cyclists of all levels and ability. Recently, a guy from California rode with us, and he said he did a Google search and found me through our website,” Kelley said. “He turned out to be a Hollywood stunt man and driver who was a hoot.”
Many of Kelley's friends are cyclists he met on organized rides or were new to town and wanted to ride. He said anyone can go to www.dundeechaingang.com and find a group to ride with on most days.
When Lisa Martone relocated to Omaha from the East Coast three years ago for her job, she didn't know anyone in the city.
She trained mostly by herself for her first Ironman, an endurance race consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. But her second year in Nebraska, she reached out to a local cycling club and running club.
“Before I knew it I met so many new friends to support my triathlon passion,” she said.
Some of those friends introduced her to trail running and ultrarunning, two of her newest passions.
“The camaraderie is a positive influence and motivator,” she said.
But best of all, “I met my amazing boyfriend all while doing the things I love to do,” Martone said.
When you are passionate about cycling or running or any endurance sport, it's hard not to make friends, Cherko said.
“There is such a variety of people, from lawyers to electricians, fast to slow, young to old. You're going to find someone you bond with,” she said.
“You're going to find a cheerleader — someone who inspires you — someone to help keep you accountable.”
Green and Martone agree that they never feel like outsiders in Omaha. This is the place they call home and where they have made some of their best friendships.
“My athlete friends are my family,” Martone said. “They are friendships which will last a lifetime.”