Smithsonian in the Snow
Every morning I have the pleasure of driving two of the silliest six year olds in the world to school. One is mine and the other is his best friend. From the minute she gets in the car until the minute I drop them in the car loop, they are giggling in the backseat. When they return in the afternoon, they begin the giggles all over again. I am sure they are complete angels with no giggling while in school, right?
Seven years ago, as I prepared to train for Ironman Austria, I hired my first coach. I had my doubts about the relationship. Up until that point, I had trained for six marathons and a couple of triathlons all by myself andquite honestly, it was going really well. But I liked this guy and since he was already doing my sports massages it seemed natural enough to move onto the coaching level.
The problem is that I am not easily convinced that another person knows more about my body than I do. And when he started pushing me beyond my comfort zone, I was not ready. Physically, I am sure he was right. I was physically ready to push myself more than I had been. Mentally, though, I just wasn’t there.
By mutual decision, we split. He moved on to more willing athletes and I proceeded to DNF in my first attempt at Ironman. Still, I didn’t regret working on my own. I was just not ready to work with a coach.
Then through a series of events that started with my rupturing my plantar fascia and ended with my watching this video, I decided to give coaching another chance.
Five months ago, I started working with Coach Jeff at PRS Fit and I have not regretted the decision for one minute. The trick this time was simple. I put all of my trust into Coach. After speaking to him a couple of times, it was easy to do this and when he got me through almost two months of recovery without losing my fitness, I knew I was in the right place.
Having built up trust during those first months, Jeff has eased me into a program that is helping me to feel stronger and more able to meet my goals. But the best thing I have learned through working with a coach is that I can trust another person to guide my training. Reading all of the magazines and blogs in the world will never give me the experience Jeff has had as a coach. So I have to trust him.
And I do. Recently, as we were once again discussing the fact that this foot continues to be an issue, Jeff asked me for some video of my stride. After analyzing what I was doing wrong, he told me we need to change my stride. I am not sure that I have made it quite clear enough how rigid I am. I don’t bend and when it comes to my body, I am a purist. I have never been one for fads in the running world.
But I trust Jeff and I believe him when he says that changing my stride will help reduce the injuries that continue to plague me. This trust says a lot about Coach but I think it may say something about me as well. I hope that what it says is that in the past seven years I have grown and matured. That I am now smart enough to realize that I don’t have all of the answers. Maybe that saying about old dogs and new tricks is just a little backwards. Or maybe, I am not quite as old as I think I am.
The lesson I know I have learned though is that life is not static. Things change. We move on and what we were seven years ago is not necessarily what we are today. Seven years ago, I may have had the world’s best coach, but if I wasn’t ready for him, then it wasn’t going to work. Today, I am seven years older and I am ready to let go of what I thought I knew and trust that Coach Jeff knows more.
I love the act of running – floating through the miles while drenched in sweat, my heart beating strongly, my mind wandering through subjects for the next week’s blog. I love runners. The ones I meet on Daily Mile.Theones I see on our local trails. The running moms I meet at my children’s schools. But even more than the people and the act of running, I love the inclusivity of this sport. I love that on any given weekend I can run a marathon or a 5-k with the “best of the best of the best, sir.” And I love that those best of the best of the best are so approachable. I love that runners like Ryan Hall and Paula Radcliffe who bring me to tears with their performances can admire the perseverance it takes for the back of the packers to be out there competing in the same sport.
My husband’s friend tells a story that I think is so indicative of this inclusivity. A few years back when he was studying at Oxford, he was invited to a banquet honoring several past graduates of the university. He had only just arrived at Oxford so he found himself at a table full of people he didn’t know. Sitting to his right was a gentleman who struck up a conversation. He asked our friend, “So, do you participate in any sport?” And my friend proceeded to tell him how he jogged a little and participated in some local road races. After he finished regaling this gentleman with stories of his favorite races, he asked in return, “And you, do you participate in any sport?” The gentleman, replied, “I jog a bit.” Maybe he would have expounded on the subject, but just then someone approached the podium and began to speak, eventually introducing the guest of honor that evening – Sir Roger Bannister. Sir Roger Bannister, who happened to be seated, you guessed it, right next to my friend.
I love this story because it is just one of dozens of stories like it. John Bingham tells one of sitting beside an elite athlete who had recently set the world record for the marathon. This marathoner asked how he had done in the same marathon and after Mr. Bingham told him how long it had taken him to complete the marathon, this world record holder was shocked. Not mortified but shocked and amazed that anybody could stay on their feet that long.
Over the years I have had the pleasure of meeting so many great runners – Jeff Galloway, Joe Henderson, Mark Allen, Bart Yasso – and without exception they were all so gracious. Unlike the pro athletes we find in other sports, they didn’t act like their presence was a gift to me. They acted like any other runner I have ever met. They asked about my races and related stories about theirs as though we were two of a kind. And though they are faster and stronger than I, they are right about that we are all runners. John Bingham said it well, “If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”
I enjoy our local races. They are a great place try to compete for an age group spot. At these smaller races, I actually have the chance of this happening. But I love the bigger races, the ones with 10, 20, or even 30 thousand participants. I love seeing the diversity of our sport. While every large race has a couple of handfuls of elite athletes, you will also find people of every shape and size, first time racers and veterans of hundreds of races, moms, dads, sisters, brothers, nuns, priests, tattooed biker types, young guys still smelling of booze from a late Saturday night out with friends. Each seemingly so different from the next but on race morning they are all the same. They are all runners, experiencing the same jitters and anticipation, the same excitement or dread and ultimately the same sense of accomplishment for a race well run.
When I was thirteen, I walked into my living room, sat down on the arm of my father’s Lazy Boy recliner and without warning, came to the full realization of who I wanted to be. Some people spend a lifetime trying to
discover themselves. For me, it took minutes. As I sat there with my father, I was mesmerized by the image of Julie Moss crawling across the finish line at the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. I knew immediately that that was what I wanted from my life. I wanted to push myself and watching Julie struggle on all fours, in the dark, toward that finish line, I knew how I would do it.
This doesn’t make me unique. There are thousands of runners who watched that video, either that day or years later and thought, “That is what I want to do.” It is either in you or it isn’t. You either watch it and think “Why the hell would somebody want to do that?” or you watch it and utter a breathless, “Cool” in amazement at her ability to keep going even in the face of pain.
Don’t get me wrong. I am no Julie Moss. I will never be fighting for first place in a race. Instead, I fight to beat myself. To better my last time. To push myself further than I thought I could. I battle against the barriers that pretend to be there.
When I started marathoning 12 years ago, it never occurred to me to think I couldn’t do it. It never occurs to me to think that anybody couldn’t do it. So, you’re 400 pounds and want to run a marathon? Sure. It might take you a couple of years to get in shape but sure, you can do that? You smoke 2 packs a day and want to run a marathon? Yep, get out there and become a runner. You have never run a mile in your life? It is just putting one foot in front of the other. It is doable. That isn’t to say it is easy. It isn’t. But if you want to do it, I mean really want to do it, you can push through the pain and it is in pushing through it that you will find the joy in the marathon.
I have crossed the marathon finish line 13 times. Each time, it feels a little like a miracle. Did I really just run 26.2 miles? Am I really done with the 16 weeks of training? And most amazingly, did I really just push through that pain at mile 22? The pain that caused me to start silently chanting “this is hard, this is hard, this is hard” over and over again?” The pain that had me crying and convinced it just wasn’t worth the effort? Did I really make it through that? Yes, and that is what makes it worth it. There have been marathons when I haven’t felt that pain, not many, but some. But it is the marathons in which I had to push, when I had to overcome, that I find the most joy.
I have heard it said that anything worth having isn’t going to come easy and maybe that is why Julie Moss’s famous crawl to the finish resonated so strongly with me. Maybe it is why I saw my friend Michelle’s pictures of her marathon experience and understood her joy at the end. It is in the struggle that we find out what we are made of. It is in the marathon that we push beyond that struggle and become the person we know we can be.
Special Thanks to Michelle from Daily Mile for sharing her pictures and experience with me and inspiring me to write about this pain and joy of the marathon.