In the world of running, I’d be considered a baby. September of last year, my friend Jenny challenged me to run a half-marathon and two months later, I did. Two months after that, I ran another one. And I kept running, learning quickly that running is something that I absolutely despise… and love. If that statement doesn’t make sense to you, then you’ve probably never run long distances and experienced the rush of adrenaline that comes with crossing that finish line.
Last week, Jenny called me up. A triathlon was happening on Saturday and one of their teammates was injured. Would I be willing to fill in as the team’s runner?
4 miles? Flat terrain on an out-and-back? No problem.
Race day came and the atmosphere was great. It’s a local low-key race and there were lots of familiar faces, so it felt like one big party.
The running portion was the end of the race, so I stood with two other runner friends and waited for my biker guy to enter the transition area. One friend’s biker showed up. Then the other. And then I was alone for quite a while. We started to worry a bit, but my biker appeared and I was off.
I had a decent pace going and I wasn’t feeling the need to gang-bust out those four miles. I’ve only just learned how to run multiple miles without dying, let alone trying to increase my time. I passed several people, which always feels good, but I didn’t take too much pride in it, because most of them were not a part of a team like I was and had already swam and biked in addition to the run.
It started getting hot and I remembered how much I hate flat out-and-back courses. When I can see forever and ever and I know that I’m going to see forever and ever on the way back, too, it just gets to my head and I hate it. But I kept going, because that was my only choice.
Ahead of me was this older man who I knew was doing the whole triathlon.
“I can’t let this old guy beat me,” I thought, for only the first of many times for the remainder of the race.
I approached him on the outside, wanting to overtake him, and quickly realizing that he was keeping up a pace that I couldn’t pass and maintain. So, I did the next best thing: I started chatting with him.
We reached the turnaround and were still side-by-side. He told me that he’s been running for 25 years, that he’s 73 years old, and that he once ran a half marathon in 1:25. He had a cool accent from what I believe was Ireland, but he lives in Canada now. His name was Al.
Al said that we should, “Run up the field” which I learned meant picking up the pace and passing people. I was already running as fast as I ever had, and was unsure that I’d be able to keep up with this guy.
“I can’t let this old guy beat me,” I thought again.
A little over a mile left in the race, my head was really getting to me. I was hot, I was running at a pace much faster than I felt comfortable running, I was getting my ass kicked by a 73-year-old who had already swam and biked 15+ miles.
“I can’t keep up with you, Al,” I sighed, “I have to slow up.”
Just as I backed up my pace, he grabbed my elbow.
“Oh no you don’t! I’m not running alone,” he said. “This is the end. You will keep up and finish hard.”
I wondered for a moment if kicking an elderly man was acceptable in the instance that he is in far better shape than you.
The road weaved and I knew we were close to the end. And I really, really wanted to walk.
This is where my running newbiness comes in: I don’t have the experience under my belt to fall back on. I don’t have a lot of races and experiences where I have had to dig deep and finish without crapping out. So, until I build up a mental bank of those experiences and the rush of pride and joy that follows, it’s going to be tough to motivate myself to keep going.
Al continued to push me, encouraging me, and telling me to keep it up.
“You’re going to sprint to the finish,” he said.
I thought I was already sprinting and would have told him so, if I weren’t trying not to pass out.
“Your body will remember this. You need to sprint the finish,” he coached.
The finish line was in sight. He pushed me.
“Go, boy!” he yelled.
If my mind weren’t already trying desperately to keep myself alive, I would’ve laughed at the fact that he had just called me a boy.
I sprinted. I don’t know how, but I did know that I didn’t want to let Al down and I definitely didn’t want to crap out just seconds before the finish line.
Al finished just behind me. I thanked him for coaching me and sticking by me. He told me to keep it up and shook my hand. Then, he disappeared like an elderly running coach angel.
Until I saw him again a few minutes later.
After I finished, I glanced down at my watch. I ran four miles in 36 minutes. I have never ever run four miles in 36 minutes. Ever.
Thank you, Al. I apologize for even thinking about kicking you. You’re awesome.
When she isn’t getting her butt kicked by elderly men in running gear, Lindsay Maddox contributes to My Life Monday on The Balancing Act’s blogging community. She also offers up tales of parenting hilarity on her blog Silly Mom Thoughts. You can follow Lindsay on Twitter and Facebook, too!