Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Conversations with Emily

Running can occasionally be terrifying. A few years ago I lived in a more rural place. There was a particular road I would run on that bordered a deep ominous wood. When I ran on that road in the dark, I was convinced the trees were full of monsters. And this was a long road. I had plenty of time to visualize these ravenous beasts leaping out and devouring me.

I told this story to Emily as we ran the Skunk Cabbage Half Marathon together on Sunday. She told me that she too found the dark super scary. She runs in the wee hours of the morning with a friend. Emily has to run a mile on her own before joining her running buddy. The very first time she did this, she ran over a minute faster than her usual pace! Apparently the hills around her are full of coyotes and bears and - most likely - land sharks.

I didn't plan to race the half. I'm running Boston Marathon on Monday, so I used the half as a training run. No, I didn't qualify for Boston; I was four and a half minutes off. But through a set of random and fortuitous events, I'll be guiding a blind runner. So not only do I get to run in Boston, I get to help another fulfill his dream as well! Awesome all around.

Emily and I have run some of the same races, including the worst one either of us has ever run. We still b!tch about that race. It's a monthly ritual for us, to reminisce about how brutally awful that race was. It's a guilty pleasure, the one time we can unleash a wave of whining and complaining. "Remember how horrible that race was? I still gag when I remember the humidity." Aaah, good times.

Me and Emily at the start of that awful race...
The last time we smiled that day.

Anyway, we've run some of the same races, but never together. I figured since I wasn't racing anyway, I would keep her company, as long as she could tolerate my inane chatter. And Emily did me a favor, really. If it wasn't for her, I would've felt compelled to race it. And that would have been even dumber than usual for me. I suppose I could have run with my buddy David, but this is the third half we've both done in 2017, and I get enough bro-time with him on the car rides.

The weather for the race was perfect. It was an exceptionally nice day. I ran in my kilt and no shirt, because of course, and somehow Emily still let me run with her. The announcer had lost his megaphone, so we couldn't hear anything he shouted. But I had run this race plenty of times before, so I knew exactly where all the bears, coyotes, and land sharks were. We were off!

The race started somewhere in this picture

The race overlaps the roads I used to run on years ago, including the road with the monster-filled forest. We talked about dogs. I told Emily about my husky Anya. Anya's the reason I started running. We would run on snow-covered trails together, the 3 month old puppy leaping rather than running through snow that threatened to swallow her whole.

I told her about Kasha too, my next dog, who I also ran with, until he couldn't keep up with me. I don't have either dog anymore, which led me to tell Emily the awkward stories of my exes. Emily is happily married with two awesome kids, so I doubt she can relate to all my many relationship failures. Although running in a kilt may indicate a reason...

I'm predominantly a cat person, which likely also explains my many faults. Emily is a dog person, and unlike me she's managed to hold on to the dog, and she seems happy and rambunctious (the dog; but also Emily). Emily talked about her kids, who are super cool. She told me about their many little achievements with pride. And just hearing her talk about them got me excited for their successes as well.

Land shark... I think

Emily and I are both hard on ourselves, with our training, our diets, our expectations of ourselves. I often overlook my accomplishments and focus on the things I'm not satisfied with. But when she spoke of her son and daughter, there was nothing but joy there. And it reminded me of the pleasure of life, of existence. Kids don't have expectations. They just do the things they do. But those things often blow your mind without even meaning to. And that feeling is something that's worth holding on to. A child can inspire you with the smallest achievement.

In the second half of the race, Emily increasingly focused on her run, so I filled most of the space with... I don't know what I said. At one point I talked about Ivan Drago. Emily hadn't seen the Rocky movies, so she thought I was just speaking Russian for no reason. There's a big hill at about mile 10, a hill I'm all too familiar with. Emily crushed it with aplomb.

After that I just tried pushing her to go as fast as she could. I picked up the pace and told her to keep up with me, lest the coyotes get her. I said all sorts of things that I hoped were motivating. She turned on the music on her small portable speaker to amp herself up even more. One of the first songs was Eye of the Tiger, which was quite apropos. Later on Eminem came on, and apparently dropped an F-bomb just as we passed another runner.

We blasted the last few miles, gobbling up exhausted runners and serenading the hills with loud punk rock. I'm quite conscientious of the effort it takes to shut down the mind and ignore the cries of an aching body towards the end of a race. At that point the spirit takes over, and watching Emily push herself to her very limit was awesome. Being there to experience that second-hand is totally different than experiencing it yourself. I know what I can do, but watching her fly down the street like a screaming locomotive despite the pain in her legs reminded me of how much strength all people are capable of.

You have to be strong to run in typical NY weather...

We crossed the finish line only a few seconds off her goal. Had the course been flat and had she not felt compelled to talk to me on occasion, she would've undoubtedly done it - and will, next time! It was an exceptional half marathon. I can't recall the last time I had enjoyed one so much.

I am truly blessed to have the friends that I do. David, who has quickly become addicted to running races. Geoffrey and Meghan, without whom I would not be training for an Ironman. Even my one time archnemesis, Lesley, was there, manning a water table! She's the one who biked the Tour de Keuka Century Ride with me. And of course Emily, and the many other runners on LUNAR and beyond who inspire me with their hard work and success on a daily basis.

Running Skunk Cabbage was the highlight of running. It's not just running through the snow in the dark. It's not just about rubbing sore muscles while guiltily gorging yourself on greasy foods. It's not just about looking out the window at a torrential downpour, knowing you have to go out for over an hour in it. It's also about beautiful days with amazing people and great conversations.

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