On Camaraderie

Everyone has those days every so often - the days where you wake up late, disorganized, and cranky, and by the time you get out the door, the last thing you want to do when you're met with the day's heat and humidity is set out on a long run.

A few Saturdays ago was that day for me. As my alarm beeped mockingly at 5:15, I fought off sleep, and groggily cursed the fact that my morning run loomed ahead of me. After a week-long "staycation," I felt sluggish from too much good food and good wine, and wondered how the hell I was going to get through the morning. I just wanted to get this run over with. Not the greatest way to approach double-digits mileage I suppose, but I was too rushed to keep myself in check. I was already running late as I left our apartment, and hopped onto the world's slowest A train to get to our group meetup spot on 51st and Park Ave. By the train pulled up to my stop, I was already late for the group run, but twenty minutes, four blocks, and a heated argument with an untoward cab driver later I was seething. By the time I got to the bag drop the group was long gone and one of the coaches mentioned that I looked like I was ready to kill someone, which pretty much summed up how I felt - flustered, frustrated, and defeated - and I hadn't even started my run. 

I set out still inflamed at the morning's events. As I tried to walk off my frustration, I had no idea how I was going to get through 11 miles that morning. Although I'm not a big talker on runs, I very much enjoy the company and camaraderie that the group brings. I didn't realize how much I needed that motivation until I found myself facing down two and a half hours of solitary running. About a mile and a half in, I heard a runner coming up behind me. "GO TEAM!!" he shouted as he grinned at my purple Team in Training shirt. For the first time that morning, I cracked a smile and waved back, glad to have the company, if only for a moment. 

The morning's course took advantage of New York's Summer Streets program, in which Park Ave is blocked off to cars from 72nd street all the way down to the Brooklyn Bridge. My route took me from our team tent at 51st street to the bridge and back up to Central Park, through the lower loop, and back down to the team tent for a total of 11 miles. Three miles into my run, some of my faster teammates had already made the bridge loop and were heading back uptown. As they passed me - first one or two, then larger groups - many of them waved and yelled "Go Team!" or "Keep it up!" as they went by. Pretty soon, a steady stream of purple shirts was going past and I found myself waving and exchanging our enthusiastic greetings. By the time I reached the Brooklyn Bridge, I had worked out the tension in my joints and was hitting my stride. I carried those words of encouragement through each mile, and before I knew it, I had finished 12 miles - more than I had planned to do, and one of the greatest runs of my life. What had started out as a terrible morning turned into a tremendous accomplishment.

The following weekend, I had a completely opposite experience - I was up and ready to go, excited to hit 13 miles and ready to run across the Brooklyn Bridge. I felt unstoppable, despite a slight upset stomach that had been plaguing me for the last 24 hours, I was ready to rock that mileage. As soon as I started running, I knew something was wrong. My feet were barely making forward progress, and it took every ounce of mental energy I had to inch forward. My brain began telling me to slow down, then to walk, then to hold on to the railing of the Brooklyn Bridge for dear life. I felt dizzy and nauseous and began to get disoriented. As much as it killed me, I knew I had to turn around barely a mile into my run. Slowly, I made my way back to the bag watch feeling defeated. I had such high hopes for this run, and I felt like I had failed. But as the day went on, an incredible thing happened. It would have been so easy for me to take something like this and use it as an excuse. Honestly, there was a time in my life where that would have been completely in character  for me to do so. And yet, it didn't. It was one run, one setback. One day. It would not dictate the rest of my training unless I let it. For the first time in almost a decade, I refused to let myself become a victim of circumstance. Shit happens. It happens to everyone. Move on.

So why are things so radically different now, as opposed to every other time in my adult life when I have let a setback (either real or perceived) dictate my outcome? I can only attribute it to my support system. The people I train with week in and week out, whose attitudes affect me as much as mine affect them. Teammates, mentors, and coaches from all walks of life, who have faced obstacles both similar to mine and far more difficult. The people who make me look forward to running an ungodly amount of miles at 7 am every Saturday. The people I watched run up 1st Avenue that blustery November day in 2007, when I thought to myself that I would love join them someday, and simultaneously, that it could never happen. These past few months with Team in Training have changed me in ways I could not imagine. I have faced fears that have plagued me for far too long. I have challenged myself physically and mentally to train for a marathon - something I have always wanted to do - and I am well on my way of doing it. But more than anything, I have found a sense of belonging rooted in a community of people I respect and admire. I have found a group of people who are more than the sum of their parts. I have found a team.

"Lift your eyes upon the day breaking for you. Give birth again to the dream...Each hour holds new chances for new beginnings. Do not be wedded forever to fear...Here, on the pulse of this new day, you may have the grace to look up and out, and into your sister's eyes, into your brother's face, your country, and say simply, very simply, with hope, good morning." - Maya Angelou, "On the Pulse of Morning"

1 comment:

  1. Great job on your long runs! Having a good support system is key some times! I try to mix it up with running solo and running with others since I will race alone.