One of my favorite, most fulfilling parts of this Run Like A Mother experience is hearing from beginners. The women who are taking on a 5k for the first time; who are brave enough to try something slightly intimidating and physically demanding; who have enough confidence in the process to continue to double-knot, even when their quads hurt, their families don't understand, their belief in themselves is wavering.
What can be hard for me, though, is being able to viscerally relate. I am happy to encourage and sympathize and dole out the occasional batch of tough love to anybody who needs it, but it's hard for me to truly recall what it feels like to struggle to simply run. Don't get me wrong: I struggled through many miles, but that lung-sucking panic of what have I gotten myself into? I think I might just die right here that seizes your oxygen-deprived brain has subsided, thankfully, after 20+ years.
At least when I'm running.
I was humbled, though, the other afternoon when I finally mustered up enough confidence in myself to join a master's swim workout at the University of Denver. They're called the Aquaholics, they're the best master's team in the state, they swim in a beautiful 50-meter pool. To me and my paltry swim career which ended in 7th grade, they radiate intimidation as surely as they do chlorine.
But after 26.2 in NYC was yanked from me, I had a choice: I could let my stress fracture drown me mentally, or I could do my best not to drown physically.
So I get there and am relieved the pool lanes are going the short way, instead of the unconquerable 50-meter way. There are about 8 lanes of Aquaholics warming up, and I'm about to put myself in lane 6 (read: the slowest lane for people who learned to swim as a child) when the coach said, "Jump in with Kate. She'll help you out." So I sidestep down to one faster lane and jump in with Kate. Immediately, I can tell I'm in trouble. This is the warm-up, and I'm struggling to stay in her bubbles. (Translation: we're supposed to be going easy, and she's already pulling away from me.) But we chat as we hang on to the end of the pool, waiting for the real workout, and I like her. I admit to her I've done one sprint triathlon this summer, with maybe two swims total before that. She assures me I'll be fine.
If by "fine" she meant I'd be o.k. through 25 of the 100 yards of the lord-knows-how-many-100-repeats we did, then I'd drink way too much chlorinated water and my shoulders would feel shredded and I'd have to forgo flip turns because I couldn't catch my breath, then I was fine.
But really, I was rocked. Flailing and failing. I couldn't find a rhythm--or sense of enjoyment. I couldn't comprehend how Kate could get so far in front of me in such a short period of time. My legs felt weak and unstable. Most of all, I just wanted to quit. Oh yeah: kind of how I felt two decades ago, when I bought my first pair of yellow-and-green Asics and tried to run around my college campus.
Kate, true to form, cheered me on as I came in dragging and she set off on another 100. "Three to go," she'd announce, omitting the fact that she was just talking about this set of a multiple set workout. I hung on as best I could, proud that I feigned just one goggle emergency towards the end so I could sit out for a lap. I had to take a break, or my arms might have fallen off. Or my lungs might have filled up with water. At the very least, the lifeguard would have been called into action.
At the end of what felt like four hours, we kicked a few lengths side-by-side using kickboards to cool down. "Is the pool this way 25 meters or 25 yards?" I asked her, hoping it was the former: what little swim muscle memory I have is used to yards, so maybe this was longer and tougher meters?
"Yards," Kate replied knowingly. "But, I promise, it's uphill both ways."
I am, like so many of you, going to climb again today.