A Little Running Story

Sometimes the ability to powerfully influence others, a vital competency of emotional intelligence, shows up without saying a word.

Many of you know of my dark and sordid love affair with running. I go through romantic, passionate periods where I am a faithful lover then for no reason at all kick off my shoes and quit, just long enough to where when I put them back on it is like an awkward first date. It’s a rather painful process but one familiar to many adults I’ve learned who at one point ran in high school or college. Like the lyrics in the Civil Wars’ haunting song, “I don’t love you, I always will…”

So last fall I ran a marathon, and this weekend I labored (to put it gently) through a short 5K, the Ram Run, a hilly race our functional dysfunctional family jumps into every year to support our local high school. It seems each August when it occurs I am definitely on the outs with my love. I blame it back issues, or the fact that we traveled too much, or “I have been riding my bicycle!”, all feeble excuses to not remain true. This summer was no different as I had only run a handful of times giving cause for great trepidation around the race’s hills, and in particular, the final one.

In the months between each Ram Run I actually daydream about being in such great shape that I completely tackle the beast. The last mile of the race for the most part is slightly uphill and then takes a sharp turn to a dirt path for the last 100 meters or so that could almost be done better on hands and feet, scrambling up the steep rocky incline to the finish line. Needless to say it is a torturous way to end a three mile run.

There is a lady named Jen who always wins with the fastest time overall for women. She is a coach from another school and often (undoubtedly to her dismay if she knew) visits my off- season Ram Run daydreams. Countless times over the past year I have imagined myself turning that corner at the base of the horrible hill and there she is. This is one of the many delusional aspects of my troubled running relationship. In reality, meeting up with her toward the end of this run could never happen because I consistently come in a good 12 minutes behind her each year. That means she is finishing the race well before I even reach the two mile mark….nothing short of depressing. But in my I’m In Great Shape Fantasy World, I have imagined turning that corner and there she is, and to her surprise in a final ditch effort I push past her up that wretched steep incline for the win. Again, completely and entirely delusional…and impossible.

So imagine my surprise yesterday, as I slowly climbed the long grueling ascent before that hill from hell, sweat dripping off my nose, gasping for air in short high-pitched (I’d guess a high A flat?) tones, feet barely shuffling forward, mentally beating myself up for being ten pounds heavier than last year and so ready to quit and just walk to the finish, when I turned that corner and there she was. It was a surreal deja vu from all of my silly daydreams of the past year, like that hazy place between dreams and awake after an afternoon nap. In an instant (and to my chagrin) I suddenly realized she had speed-walked the entire race! I had to laugh! She walked the whole darn thing and was still ahead of me!

Despite this discouraging realization, here we were at that fateful finale, two players in a dark comedy. I dug in deep from the very little I had left in my already-spent reserves and pushed past her and up that hill with a desperate burst of effort. I had no thought other than, “She will not walk past me!” The crowd was yelling her name and cheering her on as I passed so I knew she was just a few steps back. I thought my lungs were going to explode and my face, boasting the brightest shade of red comparable to a ripe autumn tomato, would frighten the medics and cause them to come running to my aid. I wanted to quit and walk. I seriously can’t remember a time when I’ve pushed harder, but with lungs screaming and legs collapsing I made it up that hill and ran across that finish line just seconds ahead of her.

Thank you, Jen, for being such an awesome, amazing athlete, and without even knowing it, inspiring me to push myself beyond what I thought I could.  I hope someday I can do the same for someone else. Though it was my slowest 5K time ever, and kin to the feeling of winning a card game when a little cheating is involved, it still felt fantastic to accomplish the impossible.

And Running, my beloved, my darling, let’s start courting again, shall we?