On the night before I turned 30, I ran the best run of my 20’s. It wasn’t a personal best, it wasn’t a race, it wasn’t a comeback run, and it wasn’t even really my run. At 29 years, 364 days, and approximately 20 hours old I experienced something that I don’t think I’ve experienced since crossing my first marathon finish line or Boston Marathon start line over 12 years ago. Joy, pride, and pure exhilaration! I started running when I was 14, and while I wasn’t great when I started, I spent the next 6 years hitting all kinds of running milestones. Between my first and second 10miler (and half marathon) is a 30 minute difference. I qualified for Boston on my first try, and would take another 30 minutes off that time before I turned 20. I ran cross country in high school and college, so I had a constant source of people telling me how big my accomplishments were. It is hard to keep up with that level, and so by my early 20’s I was fighting for every second off my times I could get. It also wasn’t a big deal anymore. I’d experience many running lows. There were multiple serious injuries, life threatening illnesses, and a few “we’re not sure you are ever going to be able to run again” moments. Don’t get me wrong, I had many great moments too; I ran Boston 4 more times, I ran a couple more personal records, won a couple more races, and I ran hundreds of races. But nothing ever felt like it did when I was younger. I tried to repeat it, but it didn’t happen. It was sort of depressing to think about running in my 30’s wondering if I’d ever get that feeling of being “good” again.
That night, I just finished up coaching two groups and sent them to the track to walk a cool down. I came face to face with someone from my past who made me feel very … unsettled. One of those people who I use to try incredibly hard to impress, to fit in with, to get approval from, and it always back fired. One of the people who are so insecure in themselves they will put you down and hold you down. Very little was said, but it was enough to upset me. While I know there was nothing I could do to show my strength, my success, my happiness, or my health since we’ve last seen each other, there was an urge to find a way. While this person walked the track and all of my athletes were cooling down, I was still a little bothered by our two sentence conversation, and I wasn’t ready to walk away just yet.
I looked across the track, and there was one of my long-time runners. She had already done her own workout and then helped my advanced group. She was getting ready to leave, and I’m not sure why, but I asked her if she could give me one more half mile. She looked at me a little hesitant at first, but then shrugged her shoulder and took her backpack and jacket off. “I need you to run this pretty hard. And I need you to run past that walker over there really strong.” She didn’t argue and she didn’t question it. Later she told me that I don’t ask her to do something like that very often, so she figured there had to be a good reason behind it.
We started the run. I went out about half a step in front of her in the lane outside of her and she grabbed onto my stride. At 200 meters in, I knew this was a lot faster than we’d normally run this. We passed the person at about 240meters. Right after that she mumbled something about slowing down, but I told her to hold on. She did. At 300 meters, I started to get a little worried if I had taken her out too fast and if she’d be able to hold it. I didn’t want her to feel like she had disappointed me, and I knew she would be upset with herself if she had to stop. At 400 meters, I realized we were running a pace she hasn’t run in my 18 months of training her. It was right around there that my mindset changed. I was no longer focusing my energy on trying to show some random person from my past that I was good enough or strong enough. I wasn’t worried about what some random person thought about me. I focused my energy on who mattered. I wanted my runner to feel good about herself, and I was going to get her to hold this pace until the finish. I realized how connected we were, and that if I gave myself and my energy to the right people, they would give it all right back to me. I needed to believe in her and trust her, so that she trusted me and believed in me enough to keep going around that track at that pace. It was a dance around the track. Our strides were matched, and every piece of effort, energy, and will she gave to me, I gave right back to her. We were completely in sync. I had to forget about everything and everyone else at the moment; we were all that mattered.
We ran that half mile an entire minute faster than she has ever run a half mile. As we walked the cool down and as she started to catch her breath she managed to get out, “Happy Birthday,” and I managed to give her this awkward side hug. We both thanked each other. Her eyes were watering because her lungs were burning from not working that hard before and my eyes were watering because I was seriously moved.
It might sound silly, but those 5 minutes it took run a half mile and catch our breath is one of the most defining moments of my life. It may have started with a wish and desire to prove to someone else that I’m good enough. To prove that I’m strong enough, happy enough, healthy enough, and successful enough, but in the end I got to take part in someone else’s triumph, health, and happiness. I got to help show someone else her own strength and power, and that’s what uncovered mine. When I saw it in her, I could see it in me. Could she have done that on her own or with another coach? Maybe. Probably. She’s a pretty determined and strong individual. However, I also know that no one else asked her to do that that day. I discovered my value in those couple laps. In pushing others to push themselves to a place they have never been, I push myself to a place I have never been. In always giving my best, they will always give me their best.
It may have taken a decade to have that run, but it was worth it! Unlike my first marathon, winning a race, my first Boston Marathon, my elite marathon start, or a regional cross-country meet this is a joy I can do any day I want. All I have to do is give a little of myself to the right people and be receptive when they give it back. We both ran through pretty thick walls that night, and it was worth it! We walked off the track, both of us standing a little taller.