A Tale of Two Runs
By David Grear
IT WAS THE BEST OF RUNS, it was the worst of runs, it was the run of wisdom, it was the run of foolishness, it was the run of belief, it was the run of incredulity, it was the run of Light, it was the run of Darkness, it was the run of hope, it was the run of despair… It’s not often running moves me to paraphrase classic literature. That’s especially true when you consider that in my youth all of my book reports on the classics were actually book reports on the Cliff’s Notes of the classics (if you are under thirty ask your parents about Cliff’s Notes). But I digress; my academic laziness is really not the point here.
I run with a training group on Saturday mornings that targets longer distance races, half marathons and up. Our group run on Saturday is intended to be our long run of the week. Ideally we form groups in which the members are similar in some combination of pace, energy level, stage of training, experience, and desire to be running on a given Saturday morning. These groups tend to change a bit from week to week but in general we go in knowing who we are the most comfortable running with. This allows us to run at a conversational pace, which is what coach Alexa so fervently desires for our long runs. It is also a chance to connect with other runners and build community when we aren’t gasping for breath during a tempo, speed, or hill workout. In other words we can talk and catch up. That was exactly what I was looking for last Saturday, a chance to hang out with my training group, catch up, run at an easy pace, and log some quality miles on the trails. That’s not what I got.
Our group is primarily women with a few token men thrown in the mix. That’s not a statement about the ability of the group; these ladies are tough, dedicated, and QUICK! I generally run with the kindest paced, or middle paced group. For some reason, I think it had to do with some "boy talk" on the group drive to the trailhead, Alexa sent me out with the other two guys in our group. I have enormous respect for these two men, in fact they are running role models for me and I aspire to achieve their ability someday. Someday being the operative word. Not today and certainly not last Saturday! They have a comfortable pace that is easily 2 minutes a mile quicker than mine. I knew in less than a half mile that I was in over my head. My mind and body told me I should thank the guys for the warm up and double back and rejoin my usual group. But I have discovered a new force that can act to undermine my running. Pride. I was proud to have been sent out with runners I look up to. I was proud that I was holding my own even though I knew they were holding back so as not to lose me. I was TOO proud to rejoin the other group and admit that I couldn’t keep up. So I kept running.
This trail system was brand new to me so as the miles ticked by it was becoming less likely that I would be able to find my way back to the main group or the cars. So now, not only was I expending energy at an unsustainable rate I was in danger of getting lost if I fell behind. That would have been another assault on my pride if my fellow runners had had to send out a search party. So I kept running.
The other guys were very kind to me. They both at different times asked how I was doing. My pride answered, “Doing great”. They were also very encouraging, telling me I was impressing them by keeping up. This just fed my pride even though all the empirical evidence said I should stop. So I kept running. Mercifully we reached our turn around point. I had paid enough attention to the turns that I thought I had a reasonable chance of getting back to the trailhead unassisted. I was tired and feeling quite defeated. Especially with the realization that this was the halfway point! My pride had cost me my energy reserves, conversation time with my training buddies, the ability to truly take in and enjoy a new trail system, and finally, ironically, it cost me my pride. So I quit running.
That’s right, I quit running. With half the run left I was forced to stop, and let the guys go on without me. I didn’t present it as quitting of course (maybe some of my pride was hanging around). I told them that I sensed they wanted to pick up the pace, and that I was confident I could find my way back, and that I didn’t want to hold them back so they should go ahead without me. Truthfully I couldn’t have run another step with them. I was done. I was tired. I was cranky. I didn’t want to play anymore.
After they were out of sight I was seething. I certainly wasn’t upset with them or Alexa for sending me, I was furious at myself. Because I KNEW what I had just done to myself. I have spent the better part of a year learning how to train smarter, how to listen to my body, how to keep unhealthy competition at bay, that to race fast you have to train slower. And I threw it all away so I could be proud of myself for a short time. In the end I got the opposite of what I wanted. While I wanted a nice relaxing run with friends, I got a stressful run/walk back to the car alone. Pride certainly does goeth before a fall.
Had this been the end of my weekend running I would probably still have been in a very negative place two to three weeks later. Fortunately the weekend was far from over. Sunday I received a text from Alexa asking if I wanted to run with her at yet another new to me trail. Considering how I was feeling about the day before my knee jerk reaction was to decline and site tired legs or some other excuse. I presented the text to my wife fully expecting that she’d rather I didn’t run two days in a row on the weekend and spend some time with the family. She, never ceasing to surprise me, thought it was a good idea and encouraged me to go. So I did. Reluctantly, unconfident, still a bit defeated.
When I met Alexa she told me that this was not a training session and she was not in coach mode. It was to be simply friends running the trails. Almost immediately my apprehension subsided. We started off nice and easy. Taking in the scenery, chatting, and generally enjoying a oneness with nature that is why so many of us love running trails. With my pride out of the way I was able to relax and just let my legs go. The running was almost effortless. Not to say there weren’t times we were working hard but for some reason the perceived effort was less.
The contrast with the day before was startling. I was running with a partner who was running a similar pace with similar expectations and it made all the difference in the world. The miles melted away and before I knew it we were back to the car. Never was there a feeling of exasperation or dread that we were only x number of miles into the run. In fact I almost didn’t care how many miles we were doing because we were well within our aerobic threshold, in fact with the exception of one hill climb we never really even flirted with it. I felt like we stayed right where we were supposed to for a healthy long run. In contrast to the previous day I didn’t feel like I was dragging myself back to the car thankful to be finished. Rather I got back feeling like I had run plenty, but at the same time feeling like I could have done more and desiring more almost as soon as I got in the car. I think that’s how long runs should feel when they are finished. So with a lesson about pride learned both in the pain of a less than successful run and the euphoria of a run that was all I wanted it to be and more, I’ll keep running.