in 2003, the year i started running, i joined a track club and did all my saturday long runs with a nice group of people. that was great, but not enough to justify the $200 in yearly dues. i was getting none of the promised coaching at all (the coach always seemed too busy to work with anyone that couldn’t run a 6:00 mile or faster), so i decided not to renew my membership in 2004.
i was then training solo, which can be both a blessing and a curse. i could have all those killer songs on, or just be with my thoughts and solve all the problems of the world in my racing mind during long runs. sure, i could focus on my breathing, count strides, people watch. but i sometimes missed that type of fun that only companionship can bring. you know, when boredom is dissipated, pain is forgotten and so much is shared.
fast forward to july 2006. i start blogging about running. i find blogs by other runners. i come across jessica’s blog and she invites me to join her trail running group, the oc trail runners. there weren’t many runners at first, but after a story in the orange county register on the ultra race she was organizing, (the twin peaks 50/50, that took place in the santa ana mountains last feb. 4th), a growing number of local runners found out about her group and started joining. soon we were up to over 40 members, and the slots for the twin peaks race — 110 — were all filled.
when we run together, we draw strength from each other, and that’s beautiful. not surprisingly, it took someone else believing in me, for me to believe in myself, forget the “i can’ts”, and just do it! sorta like a close friend of mine who utterly dislikes mayonnaise, but hasn’t ever tried it, i had this immutable belief, deeply ingrained in my dna, that i could not run up hills. had i even tried it? yes, but always with a firm conviction i would once again fail. i kept proving myself right.
three weeks ago fellow octrailrunner beiyi and i got together for a 16 mile run in black star canyon. naturally, the first thing i told her was that i was totally unable to run up hills, and therefore would walk up all of them. “i’m sure you can”, she said. i laughed, and promptly told her i had tried “many times”, but had never been successful. she wouldn’t give up easily, though. “just stay with me, and i’ll show you that you can”.
we started off on a mostly flat, paved road. we didn’t reach the trailhead until 2.5 miles into the run. once we did, 5.5 miles of uphill running awaited us. she told me to keep my stride short, and just keep jogging up, no matter how slow. soon i managed to coordinate my breathing pattern and my running cadence, and figured if i could just keep that under control, i’d be fine. i acknowledged the pain in my calves and hamstrings, and ignored it. i could deal with pain; it was just the “i-think-i’m-gonna-puke-my-lugs-out-at-any-moment-now” feeling i couldn’t seem to shake off. we kept working our way up, taking short walk breaks after very steep or very long climb stretches. i dreaded the moment i’d have to start running again, and beiyi would put herself back in running mode rather quickly, forcing me to fight my inertia and join her. i welcomed the few flats we encountered along the way, but also found myself slowly embracing the hills. i was breaking that barrier no one other than myself had built. it was almost surreal that i was actually running up the hills. i couldn’t stop thanking beiyi. (she may in fact have gotten tired of my copious professions of gratitude). reaching the top that morning has become one of my most memorable running moments. (right up there with losing my first toenail, puking after a run for the first time, sticking a needle in my first running blister, getting lost at the holcomb valley 33-mile race, taking a spill at the holy jim trail, going up the joplin trail, …)
so get out there, find a running partner, a running group. we all share a deep-rooted passion for the sport. this passion creates an instant bond that is hard to explain, but so easy to understand.