I’m not sure this is a race report. Because it wasn’t my race. It wasn’t really my journey either, because I trained Dakota for her first Couch to 5K. No big deal. Right? She was just someone I barely knew who wanted to run, and needed a coach. I’m not her. I’m not. I’m not even a “good” runner…if you define good by time and medals and awards.
So, in September, I wrote about her on an off, and here is her race report from today’s race. You will enjoy it. I promise.
I have been trying to write this report for hours. I would start, then get some water, then do some laundry, then chat with some friends, then sit down again. I’m not sure why I resisted this process, but clearly, there was something going on here for me.
Friday, I drove into Fresno to prep for Saturday’s race. Dakota and I had agreed to meet at a women’s meeting (I loathe these, but more on that another time). Then, we were going to Denny’s for a pancake pre-race chat. Let me just say right here, that pancakes are my go-to food for the night before races. But, even I am sick of them. She could barely choke hers down too, because she’s been trying pancakes and pasta for weeks now, to see which is best for her runs. I wrote down a list of stuff for her. She appeared a little agitated.
We had talked on and off about smoking for awhile. You can read about her struggles with that on her blog. She called me earlier in the week to tell me that she was going to smoke on the morning of the race. I had decided that I wanted her to go with me, because I was fearful of losing her in the wilds of Tulare, where our race was going to be held. She offered to drive herself, if the smoking was going to bother me…but I wanted her in. the. car. There was an edginess to our pancake meeting, and I couldn’t figure it out.
I dropped something on her that day too. That if she could finish Saturday’s 5k, then I was getting her a bib for a Sunday 5k in Fresno. Two 5k’s in one weekend. For a brand new runner. Was I crazy? She sorta stared at me. I don’t remember asking her how she felt about it, because I was in my own bubble. Like, this is happening. It turns out it was the very best decision of the whole weekend.
Later that night, I met with my BFF at her apartment, where we promptly had a knock down, drag out argument about Brian Wilson and the two dudes who got hurt at respective baseball fields. We were yelling. Voices raised. Neither backing down. We finally left the room, but I knew then, that something was also happening with me. (We got waters, sat on her balcony, and were soon belly laughing at how someone nearly got decked…). PS, all is well, and the Dodgers are in first place. Whatevs.
I knew by this moment, that I was really nervous about Dakota’s race. There was so much about this girl…so many facets of her that I didn’t understand. I was just the run coach. What if she couldn’t do it? (I knew she could, but I feared her head would kill her.) What if my alarm clocks didn’t go off? I later went to dinner with an old friend of mine, and I didn’t even really tell him what was going on. However, I ate steak. And bad things. Au gratin potates. Creme brulee. What if I couldn’t run??
I got to the apartment. Started laying out the clothes. My routine. My insane, anxiety driven, ADHD fueled routine that ALWAYS works for me. Down to a stick of gum in the exact right place. I know this about me. Whether a 5k or a marathon, I still go through identical motions. You do what works.
I was awake at 3am. And 4am. Then the alarm went off, I got dressed, got my oatmeal and coffee, and got Dakota. We drove in the dark to this horse training ranch for the Inaugural Pony Express 5K We were early, as I often am. We drove around. At this point, I started to realize that Dakota was smoking. A lot. Every time we stopped, it seemed, she had that damned cigar. I knew this was going to be trouble, I just didn’t know how much. By the time we got our bibs on, and started heading into the corral, I knew that there were going to be some problems.
We were on rocks. She wears Vibrams. There was soft dirt to start on, and soon we were weaving in and out of strollers and walkers. But, we were on rocks. I had my music on, but I could HEAR her breathing. It was LOUD and DEEP. I had run with her before, so I knew she groaned a lot when she ran. Mile 1 came. We were slow. But not only timewise. I turned to her, and it appeared she was slugging through mud. Mile 2, I turned to run backward, and my toe caught my heel. I fell. This was the biggest moment for me…because she didn’t stop. I fell, and she didn’t stop. I loved that. By the time we got to Mile 3, Dakota was not okay. I knew this. Our times had slowed. Brutally painful. She wanted to get under 13:00 minute mile, and I knew it would be a hat trick. At the end, there was an extra turn (isn’t there always?), and when I turned to watch her sprint, she was trying.
By my watch, we made it. (Not so fast. The chip timing was different, and the final was 13:07.) But this was when she was bent over, and I’m thinking geez, stand up. Get your medal. And she is hacking up a lung, and all I want to say to her was that in the first mile I thought…if you could only NOT SMOKE, you would be able to breathe…but I refrained. Because it’s not my lesson. She is hacking, and bending over and I am lifting her up. We get coffee. Juice. Pancakes (gag). We get to the car. We take a long time. And, I seem to remember that she smoked again. Later, I started to feel the effects of the nicotine on me…not bad, but I noticed it. But, I knew I had opted for her driving with me instead of behind me, and I knew this was going to be the deal. (She is a polite, not in your face smoker. She didn’t smoke in my car…but I felt the second hand effects of it.)
She was upset. I was upset. Yeah, we were happy that she ran. That she did her 5k. But, I thought I failed her. I promised her I would get her under a 13:00 minute mile, and I failed her. I didn’t beat myself up, but I kept thinking. What did I miss here? I went home. I recalculated. I slept on and off for 3 hours, then went to a concert so loud, and so head banging that I simply drowned out my thoughts. At one point I thought, I need to get home. To get ready again for today’s 5k.
When I got up this morning for the Poverello House 5k, I just thought no. No way. I’m tired. My thighs hurt. I woke again at 4, even though it was a local race, and the first thing I heard was God saying, you gotta go home. I was going to stay another night, but I felt driven to leave Fresno. To be home. To be with Chet. (Side note: I got to see my boys…they came by the house, and I was super excited. Gave them my credit card for a tank of gas, (teenagers) and felt so happy. I missed them this time.)
We go to the race. Same routine. Same thing. Same pancakes.
The energy was different. Dakota learned something big that I couldn’t teach her. She learned about her limits, after blogging yesterday’s race here. She decided to do exactly what she knew how to do, but didn’t do yesterday. We took pictures, we walked to the start line. No bibs. No chips. Perfect reclaiming race.
And, here’s where it got fun. I thought to myself, just get her past Mile 1. We were slowly running. The scenery was beautiful at Woodward Park. We were floating, or so it seemed. There were hills. Smallish, but inclines anyway. We turned at Mile 1, and I knew that I had to coach her through the next mile (long time readers know my fear of mile 18). Fuck Mile Two. I said this, and I maybe said it outloud. And I think she said it outloud. And, I noticed that she was NOT breathing heavily. I could barely hear her.
I decided that no matter what, we were nailing this. I put my sights on a runner, and I would point and tell Dakota we were picking her off. Again and again, we started to pick off couples, and groups, and individuals. It was like a couple of warriors, and we were in charge. Fuck Brooklyn. I heard her say this. Fuck Mile Two, and Fuck Brooklyn. (If you know my story, you know about me in a rocking chair at the end of my life, in Brooklyn…my biggest fear). This has been the motto of this training cycle. She was floating, and I looked at my watch.
It was there I decided that we were speeding up. I looked at her, and could tell she was ready for the challenge. We started racing. Running. At one point, we got to Mile 3, and I thought, ya know? Where the hell is the finish line? Mile 3.2, no balloons in sight. By the time we reached the park, we were at mile 3.69, and I was simply giddy. I was so happy, I could barely contain myself. Here she was. This broken woman. Nailing negative splits, like it was a walk in the park.
I took pictures. They are on her blog. They are hers, not mine.
Seven seconds separated the two 5ks, but it was much more than this. Everything about yesterday’s race was hell. Every step of hearing her labored breath, of wondering if I missed something. Today. Heaven. Bliss. The reason we run. Seven seconds that meant the difference between rocks, pain and heat…and cool, crisp air, with rolling inclines. Knowing today that I could get her there. Pushing her, and hearing her YES. YES. YES. Let’s go.
I’m home. In my house. With my dog. And my boys, just two miles away who wanted to come and see me, even on the wrong weekend. I sit here, and I wonder. Who was that girl that just 5 years ago was holding her iPod trying to do 3 minutes of running at a time? Who was afraid to attempt the impossible? Seven seconds and hundreds of miles ago, I was the broken one.
And, like always. Running healed me. All those miles ago …and still, today.
Seven seconds. The difference between heaven and hell. For her. For me. Fuck Brooklyn. We play til the whistle blows.