Thursday, August 12, 2010

The best run EVER.

Sorry for my e-absence, but I just returned from yet another hasty dash to the Bay where I began my duties as Assistant Cross Country Coach for Saint Mary’s and continued the needlessly complicated process of relocating. (I never realized how much stuff I didn’t know I needed until I started moving. But isn’t that how it always works?) I’m done with all the “heavy lifting”-- from here until the start of everything (running camp on the 18th; the academic semester on the 29th) all I need to bring is the rest of my wardrobe and Jacques, the Maine Coon cat.

I know I should offer readers a better transition between paragraphs, but I just have to go ahead and say it: I’m falling in love with the landscape there. Though Tahoe’s no ugly duckling when it comes to places to run (in the summer anyway), the East bay has it beat, hands down. There are bike path paved trails ideal for tempo runs; trails from the fire-road size to the single-track. And landscapes that change with (excuse the odd metaphor) nearly every stride.

This morning I headed out early-- 6:30 or so-- into the low-hanging fog and ran what I discovered is an 8.5 loop that begins and ends with my house (how amazing is that??) There’s only a mile or two on pavement-- the rest, an undulating fire road that borders a huge resevoir lined with a species of tree I just learned are “Bay Trees” (from which the bay leaf that flavors your soup comes.) I was drenched from the moisture in the air by the second mile, but it wasn’t cold enough out to notice. Up and down I ran, listening to the sound of my footsteps and the rustle of dry grass and undergrowth around me, wondering if the warning for mountain lions was something I ought to think about.

And yet, despite the natural beauty which surrounded me on this run, this is not the run that I will remember for years to come. Rather, the one that occurred two days prior on a not-so-remarkable trail (the bike path between Saint Mary’s and the city of Lafayette) holds this distinction so far.

For those who’ve been reading, you might recall a post I wrote in May, detailing my first encounter with the SMXC team. For those recently joining my crazy endeavor to qualify for the trials, I’ll offer a brief synopsis: two women from the team ran with me back in May when I was first hired. Both had piss-poor attitudes in that they tried to “leave me in the dust” in the first mile. As any distance runner knows, it’s easy to run the first mile of your run “fast”-- the challenge (and the proper challenge) is to increase your speed in the final miles. Of course, they didn’t do this and at the time I’d been wondering what I got myself into as they panted themselves to normality. Well, a few months later and I’m back and one of the athletes happened to have time to run with me.

Immediately I was impressed: instead of trying to break five minutes per mile, she started at a conservative pace. Enough so that we could talk. She asked how I was. We updated each other on our training. She told me, when I mentioned the first race of her season will be on September 4th, that she was “really nervous” for the event.

“Don’t be,” I said.

“But I am.”

The pace seemed easy enough, which was in part because the trail is entirely downhill on the way out. And yet, I had set a goal for us both: that our return trip to campus would be faster than the trip out, despite the hill. I know I should have told my athlete that, but I decided, instead, to see what she would do if I increased our speed on the way back just a little bit. If she couldn’t do it, we’d hold a steady pace, if she could, well, I would just keep pushing.

(Btw, I don’t know if any of this is good coaching. In retrospect, maybe I should have said something, but I didn’t.)

And so, we turned and began the three mile trek back up the hill. Our conversation dwindled, then stopped, which was enough to tell me without looking at the Garmin on my wrist that we were working harder on the way back-- my goal. It wasn’t until around mile 5, however, that I glanced at our pace on my Garmin.

“We were doing 6:30 pace,” I said between breaths, surprised. I hadn’t thought we were running that fast.

“Really?” she didn’t seem to believe me. “I thought we were doing 7:30 pace, maybe.”

“Nope,” I said. “6:30.”

The hill reaches its steepest point right before it levels out (as hills tend to do) but I have to say, she impressed me. It was getting difficult for me to push harder so much so that I might say I saw the world tilt for an instant, or that I understood in a non-linguistic way, the nature of all things and my place among them. I was loopy, in other words, but she was, too, breathing hard when we came to the final stretch of road before us.

When we returned to campus, I stopped the Garmin and waited for her breathing to calm.

“We averaged 6:41 pace,” I said.

I wish I’d had a camera with me in that instant to capture the smile on her face. It’s the kind of smile that comes after a hard effort (a summer’s worth of training and self-evaluation and revision) when you surprise yourself. It’s the smile I seek every time I head out for a training run; it’s the smile I hope to wear after every race.

“You just made my summer!” she said, and she meant it.

And because I’m me-- sort of goofy, like a Basset Hound-- I said: “You have nothing to worry about on the 4th. You’re going to kill it.”

And you know, she probably will.

I have to say it was an amazing feeling to bring that awareness to another athlete-- of what they are capable of accomplishing because of the hard work they have put into their own training. I’m not sure what it means in the scope of my own goals... perhaps I’m realizing I have a certain mental maturity that can hold onto pace like a fly on dog crap. Or maybe, when the time comes, I’ll have this memory to push me through those final marathon miles to surprise myself the way I surprised my athlete.

Either way, I’m doing my best and that’s all you can do. And you know: it’s so cool when you realize the limit to “your best” is a long ways off.

1 comment:

Chrissy (The New Me) said...

I love the way you write! This is a great story. Thank you for sharing it!