Thursday, September 13, 2012

what I talk about when I talk about running

Yesterday, I drove up the curves of the Old Blue Ridge Parkway, back north to the Mountain Kingdom. (In case you couldn't tell, I've also given into Instagram. I kind of hate myself, but ooh, filters.) Due to the vicissitudes of work and my departure date, there was only one cross country meet I could make it to, but I was determined that I was going to be there.

ladies first
Cross country (and track, which will always be my first love) was one of the few things that made my two years in the Mountain Kingdom bearable. It's hard to even put it into words. Running has always been my most reliable lifeline to sanity, but coaching, sharing that love with a bunch of kids who are just starting out--that was such a wonderful way to give back to my sport. It's funny, because I had the reputation of being the "tough" coach (in fact, my goodbye video from the team was an ode to my alleged viciousness when yelling at them during races), but I also think I was the one who talked the most about running because you love it. Not to win, not to have a line on your college applications, but because the act of moving your arms, moving your legs, breathing in and breathing out, brings you joy.

Coaching was also an excellent lesson in practicing what you preach, vis à vis the sport of running, but more generally about life. Throughout my running career, I've always been my own worst enemy: negative thoughts, complaints, lack of mental toughness, neglecting to make even a token effort at push-ups, you name it. But when you're supposed to be setting an example for 30-odd fifteen-year-olds, you kind of--can't do that stuff. You must be positive. You must never complain that it's 95 degrees in the shade (not that there is any on your loop) and you are doing repeat 800s. You must claim that hill repeats are character-building, the same way your coach did to you. You must proclaim your adoration for long runs. You must never, ever shirk push-ups or core workouts. And through making a show of doing all of that, you are forced to internalize it, in order to not be a giant f-ing ball of hypocrisy.

Because of that bratty pack of children, I've accomplished more in running than I would have dreamed of before I started coaching. I've raced a half marathon. I've run sixteen miles. I've done ten miles of two-mile repeats. I set a 5k PR. I believe I can run a marathon. But even more important than all of those numbers is the fact that they gave me something to look forward to, every day. I can't imagine my time there without my teams, and I hope that, when I get back from Spain, I'll be able to continue coaching. Along with traveling and running itself, I love it more than just about anything.

finishing strong

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