On a Thursday evening in mid-March that was a lot colder than it should be for the time of year, I found myself stumbling up a trail that bore a slight resemblance to an ice skating rink after a group of serious runners. Runners who were talking about the 15-mile run they did a few days ago, and the other 15-mile run they were going to do on Saturday. Runners who run every single day.
Yeah, I felt out of my league.
Someday I’d like to run a marathon. I’d even like to try an ultramarathon. I want to be one of those crazy people going out and running 15 miles. At least I’d like to be able to (how often I would actually do that is another story). But I’m not there yet. 6 months ago, I could barely run a mile. I’ve come a long way since then, but I have a long way to go to catch up to the people with whom I was sharing my company this evening. We quickly separated into two groups—the fast and the slow. I’m pretty sure the slow group may have been started on account of me, but the two middle-aged men who hung back with me seemed content enough to leisurely trot along and take frequent breaks.
It really wouldn’t have been all that hard for me to keep up if it weren’t for the foot cramps. A mile into the run, the bottoms of my feet started cramping up. And there is nothing worse than foot cramps. Leg cramps, side cramps…I can run through all those, they’ll work themselves out, and it’ll be all good. Foot cramps never seem to go away unless I stop running. Stopping running wasn’t exactly an option in this case, at least not for stubborn ol’ me. When I’m with a group, I refuse to be that one to turn around and give up. I’ll always continue on, no matter how slowly. So I did.
We veered off the relatively flat, yet ridiculously icy, trail that follows a stream through the hollow in favor of the less icy mountainside. The guys (I honestly forget their names…I’m terrible with names…) tried to make conversation with me as I huffed, puffed, and gritted my teeth up the hill. I tried not to think about the pain in my feet, to no avail. They eventually asked me if I was okay, and I told them about the cramping issues I was having. The boys were understanding, and urged me to take a break to see if my condition would improve. We stood around for a minute or two, long enough for one of them to run off and relieve himself behind a tree, then continued along the side of the ridge on a rolling, slightly downhill-sloping trail. My companions offered ideas and advice about my foot issues, but we didn’t come to any great revelations about what might be the cause. Maybe it’s the shoes. Maybe I’m dehydrated. Maybe my feet just hate me today.
Soon, we were back on the flat, stream-side trail, and someone suggested that I lead. Ugh. When I am in a group of people who are far better than me at whatever activity we are doing, I’m definitely not a fan of leading. I don’t mind when people are faster. I just don’t like them being faster when they are behind me. I’d rather not let anyone see me struggle.
But, I didn’t protest much. After only a small groan, I relented and took off down the trail. With only the snow, rocks, and trees in front of me, I was able to slip into the zone I’m used to falling into when I run alone. I began to feel better. I looked around, noticing the way the evening light was filtering through the rhododendron and glinting off the ice on the trail. Behind me, the men bantered about basketball (or some other sport that I pay no attention to) and I tuned them out, finally in my running happy place.
After another mile or so of winding through ice and snow, we arrived back at the point where we began, the house of one of the runners. We filed back to “the workshop,” where a heater blasted warmth much-welcomed by my sweaty body that was now beginning to chill in the wintery air. Someone offered me a beer and a peanut butter whoopie pie, and I sat back and listened to everyone talk about past and future runs and races. I got valuable advice about the upcoming Hyner 25K that I will be running in about a month (get out in front in the beginning to avoid the big bottleneck!).
I realized that once again, I was finding myself among the best. I was hanging with people who run marathons. Six months ago, I never would have been here. Not only because six months ago I could barely run, but because I never would have made the choice to come out and do something with a group of people who I didn’t know, who I knew were better than me at whatever activity we were doing. I realized that by simply saying “yes” to the things I want to do, instead of letting fear stop me, I am building a life that I truly love. I am learning that it’s not about being the best. It’s about doing the things you enjoy, whether you do them well or not. It’s about opening yourself up to new experiences. It’s about learning to be a beginner. It’s about being humble enough to not need to be better than anyone else, yet confident enough to know that you are awesome for just being out there.
I’ve been learning this lesson a lot lately, and it’s been one of the most valuable and life-changing ones I’ve ever learned.