perspective and “fast”

31 Aug

Today I realized something really cool about a lot of my running friends:  They’re pretty fast.


Now, this realization has hit me before–particularly when I’m trailing behind the group on some hilly run, desperately trying to ignore my wheezing lungs while staying in eyesight of them…but today it just struck me as really cool to be friends with people who are so talented and who are constantly inspiring me and pushing me to run faster and farther.


When we first started running, we were road runners.  I was pretty slow initially.  I got quicker, but even my quickest times are still comparatively slow when I look at the overall winners of most races here in Rochester.  Of course, that’s all a matter of perspective.  When I look at race times for some other cities, I realize that I’d be a top female finisher at some 5ks.  When I think about where I was when I first started and the awe I felt talking to people who were, at that time for me “fast,” I realize that it’s all just a matter of perspective.  Beginner-runner-Shme would’ve been really impressed with present-day-Shme, but present-day-Shme still wants to know what future-Shme has in her.


When we were road runners, we didn’t hang out with many other runners.  I NEVER talked to fast people. Most likely this was because many of the FAST road runners I knew were kind of elitist dickheads.  I will never forget the first time I ran 8 miles. I triumphantly stormed into the running store that will remain nameless.  It had taken me forever…probably an hour and a half at least.  But I had done it when my farthest run before that had been 4 or 5 miles.  Some of the workers were there at the front of the store–FAST runners–and I excitedly told them I’d just finished my first-ever 8 miles and held up my hands to get high fives.  I. Was. Pumped.  And I got half-hearted high fives and blank stares.  I was not WORTHY of talking to such elite-caliber athletes, especially about something as trivial as a slow-for-them 8 mile run.  This scenario happened multiple times, to the point that I no longer felt welcome in the store–I was not “fast enough” or “good enough”  to be a part of this group (and not slow enough to be a part of other groups).  I did not belong.  Road running was very solitary for me–even on group runs, we rarely talked.  Everyone would plug in their iPods and cruise along together just waiting to be done rather than enjoying the run and getting to know each other.


When we transitioned slowly into trail running, one of the first things I noticed was how chill everyone was.  How even the fast people hang out and cheer on the slowpokes.  How the experienced runners were quick to offer advice, to compliment on a run, to encourage you.


One of my first trail runs was with Sean S. and Eric.  I had never even met Sean, but Eric knew him and they had decided to do what is now the River Chase course.  I, on the other hand, had planned to go about 5 miles.  Around mile 4, the guys convinced me to just finish up with them (I had NO idea how long this run would actually end up being).  Around 8, I wanted to die–we were on trails for the second half and I’d only been on trails a handful of times before that.  My long runs were around  6 miles at that time.  When we finished our 10ish mile loop, I collapsed into our car.  Later, I’d learn that Sean is fast.  Really fast.  But he’d stayed with us the whole time, just content to be out and running and chatting.  I’ve run with Sean (and other fast trail runners) since then, and I’m always amazed by how willing trail people are to just hang out, relax, run someone else’s pace and enjoy the company and the trails together.  At our 50k, so many people would just adjust their pace to hang out, pass some miles with company, and then take off again.


When we volunteered for the Cayuga Trails 50, we spent several nights having roaring campfires and talking to elites from all over the world.  ELITE elites, not just the dudes working in the local running stores and winning the local races (no offense to them…but they’d get smoked by these dudes, which might do them some good to get knocked down a few pegs and realize that they’re really just small fish in a big pond. And they really should high five a girl who is excited about a really-slow 8 miler).  We’re talking the guys who have sponsorships and are world-class athletes.  You never would’ve known.  We talked all evening, hung out, waved hello to them on some of our runs/hikes.  They remembered our names, our dog’s name, details about races we’d said we ran…  At the end of the race, these guys set up shop and hung out til it was all over–drinking beers and cheering on other runners.  The whole weekend, Eric just kept looking at me and saying “what other sport can you interact with the best of the best like this? It’s incredible.”  And it really was.  Trail runners are just so normal…even when they’re not normal in terms of their athletic capabilities.


I have so many more examples of THIS type of behavior from trail runners.  Maybe that’s why I’ll never go back to roads (except maybe for some fast 5ks someday).  Maybe that is why I love my trail runner people.  Maybe…no definitely…that is why I’ve stuck with running for so long.  Because these people make you feel like you CAN do it–you CAN get better.  And even if you don’t get better, if you NEVER get fast, you’re still good enough to hang out with, to sometimes run with, and definitely to encourage and cheer on.  Running is my primary social outlet.  When you’ve run hundreds of miles with people, you discuss everything–family, hopes, dreams, work, bodily functions, highs, lows.  You see people at their best (finishing races–Susan S. and Amy L. take the cake for best race finishes that almost made me cry) and at their worst (me any time I’m rangry–running angry–because I have not eaten enough/am tired/am running any amount of hills) and everything in between.   My runner people know me better than most people.  Kristin Armstrong writes about “sweat sisters,” and I’ve always loved that phrase.  My runner people are my sweat brothers and sisters, my “tramily.”


This morning, I ran with Jen P–the 10k loop (because 16 and change miles in Mendon wasn’t enough for me).  She pulled me along, we chatted a bunch, and she got me to run the loop the fastest I’ve ever run it!  Afterwards, I got to watch 2 of our friends finish a humid 12k race.  Prem and Amber both won age group awards.  They both finished the race with big smiles.  They both talk to me, they both are constantly encouraging me and other people, they are both so down-to-earth. I am not fast.  But I can count these incredibly fast runners as my friends.  And that’s really cool.


I’m so thankful to have such an amazing group of runners in my life to constantly inspire me and challenge me to reach for new goals.  If you’d have told me at the finish line of that first 5k that I’d be staring down the barrel of a second 50k, I’d have laughed.  If you’d have told me 2 years ago that I’d register for the Mendon 50k, I’d have snort laughed.  Yet here I am.  Stronger than I’ve ever been, and it’s all thanks to some incredible runners who are there to push me to be the best me possible.  ❤



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