Footprint Friends

You know that poem Footprints in the Sand? The one where a woman dreams of scenes from her life and with each scene, visions of footprints in the sand.  At times there was only one set of – you know what?  I’m just going to post the poem.  Way easier than trying to recreate it:Footprints came to mind the other day when I was running the Westport St. Patrick’s Day Run with 3 girlfriends.  This was their first running event and I was SO excited for them to feel what I feel when I cross the finish line – pride, joy and exhaustion.  I was also super nervous that they’d totally hate the experience and punch me in the face for talking them into the whole shenanigan. It could have gone either way, really.

The poem came to mind because at about mile 2.2, my friend (whom I’ll refer to as Schmara to protect her identity) told me to “Go on ahead. You don’t have to stay with me.”  To which I promptly replied “Nope, we are doing this together,” as well as other anecdotes that I assumed were helpful but probably made Schmara want to kick me in the shins. But I knew where her insecurity was coming from.  It happened to me on MY very first run, and again about 6 months ago.

My first run was the Revlon Run/Walk for Women in Los Angeles about 6 years ago.  A friend who was a runner (I was not) suggested we do the 5k together.  When I replied reluctantly, she said and I quote “It will be FUN! There are massages and yoga afterwards!”  As I rounded the first corner, lungs burning, eyes watering and heart pumping, I knew the finish line MUST be up ahead.  There was a crowd of people and….a marker for mile 1.  The brat in my head told me I wasn’t going to make it 2 more miles, so quit.

Me: “Go on ahead.  You’re way faster than me anyway. I’ll see you later.”

Her: “Ok,” 

Me: “Um, WHAT?”  

Did not see that comin’.  It’s like when you ask the dude in accounting how he’s doing while you are waiting for the microwave. You don’t really expect him to launch into a story about how their ingrown toenail is getting the better of them.  Common courtesy.

Fast forward to about 6 months ago.  I was running the Capital Pursuit 10-miler in Des Moines with my friend Schmason. By this time I was a seasoned runner and perfectly OK with running this one solo, as Schmason’s pace is about 1:00 or so faster than mine (OK, more like 1:30, but who’s counting?).  We talked about it, and were both in agreement that we’d stay together in the beginning and then settle into our own zones.  No more than 1 mile into the run, I got the WORST side cramp of my life.  I literally could not straighten my upper body without screaming.  But I have never walked in a run and wasn’t going to start that day.  So I told Schmason to “Go on ahead.  I’m going to have to take this one slow.  I’ll see you on the other side.”

She looks like I felt. Hot mess.

I don’t know whether it was the contortionist-like agony on my face or the awkward moaning but Schmason said, “No, it’s okay.  I’m in no hurry.”  And he continued to say that for 9 miles. The more I begged him to leave me alone to die, the more insistent he became in staying with me.

Schmason carried me through that race. No, Schmason, I am not comparing you to Jesus even though you live in Heaven.  What I mean is that without Schmason speed walking next to me, it would have been…I probably would have walked off the course.  That run would have haunted me for months, maybe years, to come.  Instead, the Capital Pursuit has become somewhat of a victory for me.  I proved to myself that I can push through the pain, the mind games and the self-doubt.  Winning!

That's not a smile, that's shock.

What would it have done for Schmara if my answer was “Sweet – I’m gonna grab a Mexican pizza from this here Taco Bell and catch ya at the finish line” instead of “Don’t worry about me, this is your run. Take your time.”  My guess is that she would have done a lot more walking and a lot less limit pushing.  I didn’t have any brilliant words of motivation for her or channel Jillian Michaels to get her to the finish line, but I didn’t need to.  Schmara had the physical and mental ability to ROCK this race before she even laced up her shoes.  She just needed someone to carry her when she forgot.

Exercise, like life, can make you feel powerful and strong, but can humble you just as quickly.  Whether you’ve been in the game for 2 weeks or 20 years, there will always be those days where you just want to quit.  But unless there are extraneous circumstances (like injury, shark attack or being the one to discover the milk has gone bad), you can push through. You might be offered help along the way in the form of a friend, a stranger in line at the grocery, or the tatted up bike messenger riding the elevator with you – take it.  And if you’re too out of breath to say thank you, don’t sweat it.  We know you’re thinking it.

Carrying each other to the end...

For the record, I finished my first 5k that day, slowly but surely, and never looked back. I’ve completed over 30 triathlons, runs and bike rides since then.  I am no longer friends with the roadrunner.  I prefer to surround myself with people who will pick me up when I’m down, not use me as a launching pad.

Has anyone ever carried you?  When have you wanted to quit, but didn’t?  Do you like long walks on the beach?  Is anyone out there?  Is this thing on?