This is a guest blog post I wrote for D on training her. You can find her blog here.
About 9 weeks ago, there was this woman. Someone I barely knew. And, I can’t remember how it happened, but I was swimming at my friend’s house, and earlier in the day, maybe after I spoke in Fresno, she asked me if she could call me. Of course, I said yes. I always say yes. She called me that night, and I can remember sitting in the pool talking to this woman, and she started to pour out her story. I was intrigued. Interested. And sometime in that conversation or shortly afterward, she sort of shyly mentioned that she, yanno, would like to run.
Anyone who knows me knows that if you say that to me, I trot out my “Anyone can RUN” speech. “Download Couch to 5K! I will help you!” I’ve said this dozens of times. And dozens of times, someone starts with me, and we get to week 3 or 6 and all of a sudden…they just stop. Actually around week 5, the runs start to change. You are no longer running and walking. You’re running. I told her that if she wanted to do this, that I would run a 5K with her.
7234 Facebook messages later. We are at week 8.
And I say this, because truly. We have spent some time in the trenches. Here is what I remember. And even as I’m saying this, I’m sure she will remember our journey differently.
At the top of my page on my blog, Gymnotes, I have the mantra: If Not Now, When. I believe this. Do it. Really.
One day at the end of July she was sort of going on about when she was going to run, and had the app and when should I run, and I think I must have said, off the cuff, “How about now?” It was near 100 degrees, and she GOT OFF THE PHONE, and got her shoes and went for her first run. Week 1, Day 1. I was in shock. And I thought, well, who does this? At 2 in the afternoon for God’s sake? When she got back, I could feel it. She was hooked. And I was hooked.
NO one gets as excited as me when someone really GRABS onto running. I’m the essential non-runner, only running 5 marathons after age 50…so I don’t think I have much to give in this area, when BAM, this girl comes along.
We have a lot of mutual friends, and she didn’t want anyone to know. For a month, I kept quiet. I told no one what I was doing…but I was on facebook with her. A lot. Because new, excited runners are like that. What shoes? What’s a gel? What do you MEAN hydration? And, I loved it. Secretly. But there was something different about her. She had a lot of history. Horrific history. I grew to love our late night chats when she was gnawing on something and wanted to talk. Because, I needed to listen. I needed to be there.
At the end of week two, it was time to make a decision. To sign up for the 5K. We found one. We signed up. I signed up and I started to get excited. New runners have aches and pains and all kinds of muscles that need to be strengthened. Mostly, their heart. Their soul. Day after day she would report in, and she would tell me how she did and I tried my best to encourage her to JUST. KEEP. GOING. And yeah. Shit got REAL when she paid her fee for her first race. You really don’t become a runner until you shell out $30 to drive an hour to see if you can run a 5K.
And we would talk. Late into the night. And, I realized we were talking about a lot of stuff. Not just running. AA. The program. God. I was able to share with her the most horrific marathon story where I was left in a strange town to run a marathon without any support. I was able to convey how insane I was waking up that morning, putting on my shoes, and toeing the line anyway.
We had a thing about smoking. She wanted to want to quit. I told her boldly, that I don’t train smoking runners. That at some point she would have to pick if she wanted to be a smoker or a quitter. And, this is really part our unique story. For a few weeks she had a quit date, and I was trying to just support her. And I know this was tied to her son, and to her life, and for the life of me I didn’t know how her lungs were even handling this. She picked a date. She made it, then shit got real. She didn’t want to quit. And I didn’t want to stop training her. So, guess what? I train a smoker. It was in these nighttime moments that she would be mad at me or worry or panic and I’m like being a hardass. Not understanding. For me, this was when her life started to turn. She didn’t want to stop. And I didn’t want to stop. So, here we are. But in those moments of forging a friendship, we started to trust each other. She smoked. I trained her. Whatevs.
I was going to the beach to hear her speak. I didn’t want to go. I truly did not want and was not ready to face a part of my past that is completely gone. My sponsor and I talked. I was willing because I knew the she would want me there. And, she said something. She said she would give anything to see her boy do a sport. Anything. Because she lost her beautiful son Qory, her small voice said. No. You stay. And I started seeing dragonflies. I never see dragonflies. They were everywhere. And she told me that is her son. I’m like WHATEVS this is weird. But I started to look for them. I would send her pictures of dragonflies. And, I sort of felt like I was on this path with her, however we got there.
She was starting to nap, and because of her internal processes, I just thought running was exhausting her emotionally. (It turns out she has shingles, but whatever. We didn’t know.) The first time she was directed to run by the app, she was scared. Literally was coming out of her skin to have to run 3 minutes. So afraid. And, then she did it. I saw the transformation. That week. Week 3 or 4 I can’t remember. But she was definitely a runner.
Somewhere in here, I started to connect. To share how I ran on the catwalk and cried on the ground over the overpasses in Ripon. In the midst of the physical running talk, we started to talk about running through devastation. Through angst. I started to remember all the tears I cried on my streets. All the times when I hoped that my man, the man who couldn’t be there…would BE THERE. All the times I re-lived the affair and the shock of my small town life and all the times I just ran anyway.
We started to have a friendship. A two way conversation. And sometimes I wasn’t tuned in. I was giving her direction about the run…and she just would say okay, that the shoulder hurts or the stomach or something and I’m like, hey I’m on a date. And I send her a picture of this man’s Harley, and she’s like why are you in Escalon, and I’m like because we rode there, and she’s like…did you RUN? And I’m like no, but how is your foot? Huh. Keeping me in check. Keeping me honest. One night I was out with a new man and I came home and told her I was running. She said, until when? And I said until the scare was gone. And this week. I ran 8.8 miles after work and she understood, because she is a runner, that I had to lace up and go…even though she needed something (I didn’t know what yet)…she moved me. Inspired me. If she can face what she does every day, I can certainly face the sorrow that comes with being a therapist in an Alcohol and Drug rehab.
I think it was week 5. She had a milkshake. I hung my head. Does she not listen? No bad food! No milkshakes! And, she ran her fastest run the next day. What do I know? She started OWNING her runs. Making her own decisions. No longer did I need to hold her hand…much. We argued about food. She learned that tater tots were not potatoes. She was starting to peel back the pain and be raw to the run. I remember the day I realized she was a WARRIOR. I was going to a game, and she was doing something, and I realized that this broken, beaten girl…has become a runner. But, not just a runner. A warrior.
There were times I was afraid. Afraid she’d be pissed. Afraid that my direction was too much. But, I don’t ever remember being afraid that she would stop running. There was just no way. There was the time I thought she was furious at me because the app measured by time and not distance. And around week 6 when she tossed the stupid time app and started free runs. She started to take responsibility. She was in charge.
Which brings me to the end. Sorta. A few weeks ago I was in town (or was it last week). I got to run with her. I was in town and I sort of hinted that I could maybe, yanno, run with her the next morning….And…just like the time I ran with my coach the first time, she was nervous and determined not to let me down…and she didn’t. There is one picture that I have of she and her son. And it is a spectacular and moving picture. I got to be a part of this person’s transformation. Into one of us.
You know who I mean. Us. Runners.
There was just one more thing. When she was diagnosed with shingles, she pulled back. I could feel it. There was more, but it’s not MY more. It’s her story. But I didn’t talk much with her. My work got demanding, my nights were exhausting. She would barely check in. I knew there was something, and there was.
Yesterday. We had a talk. She talked. And then something happened. As she was processing this issue, she giggled. I hadn’t heard that for 2 weeks. She giggled, and she came back. She came back and I came back, and I got to speak my truth, and no one had to move to Brooklyn with a rocking chair and a cat.
I was going to write. At the end of her race. But I just couldn’t wait. So I sat down today. To write this.
They say when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. It’s not what you think. I was ready. I was ready to coach a warrior, and it was time for me to be taught that you can prepare all you want to, and can follow laid out directions and plans, but corners get turned, and lives get saved. She saved her life. And me? I get to be a part of it. Every damned step of the way.
Next week, we are going to an undisclosed location to run a 5K. In a small town. And I will get to be a part of something really big. Someone who didn’t turn back, who was willing to risk, who was malleable, yet bold in her stances. I can’t wait to see what happens next. This roller coaster? Though there were times I felt like I didn’t have a seatbelt, I have always known…that it has been worth every twist and turn.
I got to be a part of something really big. Bigger than I’m sure I will ever know. Blessed. Beyond measure.