One of the hardest things about coaching is the emotional investment in, not just individual performances, but the team’s performance. To be honest, I’d always been part of teams that were pretty good. The huge disclaimers here are that I went to high school in a small state where the level of competition was only okay, and I went to a Division III college (and, while I will praise DIII athletics ’till I’m blue in the face, I don’t want to pretend I ran for Villanova!). But, being part of teams that were good, I took a few things for granted: 1) never having to double. I ran the 3200 and then the 10k. I got my job done and scored a few points and went home. 2) a disappointing meet still being respectable and 3) having the luxury to obsess over my own race rather than the team score. Even on my high school team, I don’t think I was ever the top finisher, and the times when my place ended up being integral, it was only after the fact (winning the state meet by one point!) that I realized it.
Coaching is different. I coach a small team at a high school in the largest state class. I write workouts for the boy and girl distance runners, but I’m the head coach of the girls indoor track team, so even though I never watched a field event (just being honest) in all those years of competitive running, I also need to at least have an idea as to whether someone can reasonably run the 4×2, the 55 Hurdles and High Jump in the same day. (If that someone is mortal, and both the 4×2 and the girls HJ fall at the beginning of the meet rather than the end, probably not).
Anyway, last week, we had our league meet on a Thursday night. We didn’t score as many points as I’d thought we might, and we didn’t get back to school until after 11. I’d had trouble sleeping the night before, worrying about the lineup, the logistics of the bus ride (I hate logistics. All logistics.), the jewelry rule, people false starting, and then, some of these fears actually came true… and I spent the whole night after the meet dreaming about being called to the clerking table and explaining my decisions to hypothetical angry athletes and parents, and I woke up on Friday morning feeling not at all like I wanted to go teach all day.
I had more caffeine than is healthy (I worry recently that the guy who works at my local Dunkin’ Donuts is judging me from my recent move from medium to large coffee, and with it, the move from one sugar to two), and somehow trudged through the day, but as the periods crawled past, the track workout I’d stolen from Oiselle teammate Amanda Lee’s twitter account was looking less and less likely. When my friend asked if I’d like to go for a trail run and end at a quaint Olde Newe Englande Inne, I said yes.
We ran trails I’d explored a few years ago. The weather was warm. My headahce disappeared as we ran. We ended in, yes, an old inn, in front of a fire, and caught up over beer. The trails felt like all of the trail running stereotypes I’ve ever heard: freeing, grounding, humbling, etc. No watch, no pace to keep, no cars…. But, I noticed something: I have a lot of trouble running down hills. I don’t actually run down hills on trails. I gingerly pick my way past rocks. At one point, about ten minutes into the run, I turned my ankle and stopped, making a big production of rolling it around and limping a few steps before saying “Okay, I think we can go on.”
Kristin didn’t say anything, and we ran for about an hour after that. Over beers, though, she told her husband, who’d met us there, the story. She started off with, “the funniest part of the run was,” and trying to remember what might have been funny on our run, I turned to listen. “When Amanda rolled her ankle about ten minutes into the run.” She paused, looking at me, laughing, “and, you know, I know Amanda. She’s a tough runner. And she says, ‘okay, I think we can go on.’ I didn’t say anything, like, ‘uh, of course we’re going to go on?’ but, a few minutes later, she’s blowing her nose in her shirt, and I’m like ‘there’s the Amanda I know!'” I am a tough runner. But, I’m also really afraid of wiping out.
The next time I ran on (flatter) trails, I was again filled with the freedom cliches (it was again the Friday after a LONG track meet). There is something not so freeing, though, about being unable to run down a hill. Kristin kept advising me to relax, to be floppy, to just let myself fly, to stop stopping myself. There’s another cliche here, of course: that running trails is a metaphor for life.
Kristin wants to run trails every other Friday between now and Leatherman’s Loop.