Strength in Numbers

I am in week three of training for a May 23rd 5k. This running schedule from Hal Higdon has been extremely helpful and easy to follow. Pathetic, however, that I am in constant training. This will be my fourth 5k, at the same location in fact, and yet I am still following the beginner’s schedule. Which is pushing my limits, by the way. It just goes to show that only running/training for 10 weeks a year is an inefficient way to keep in shape.

This year looks more promising since this is my second 5k in six months.

I am a treadmill runner. In the winter that is an obvious choice when so many months are blanketed in snow or ice, but now that the sun is shining, I really have no excuse not to be outside. Well, other than the fact that being outside is not a controlled environment. Treadmill running is incredibly smooth and makes pacing as easy as baking from a box. I actually don’t mind the buzzing motor, or the flashing lights reminding me how many laps I have left or even the encouragement of calories burned. I also like running with my Ipod. My running music list averages songs that stay at a consistent 150-180 beats per minute. Running two miles straight through has been comfortable and even enjoyable, so I thought I was ready to take my efforts to the pavement, with my 18 girls in training too.

Monday we had a rigorous running routine and I knew that the girls needed more than just some verbal encouragement, especially my walkers.

“If I can do it – so can you!” I just kept telling them, smiling.

So I ran. We don’t have a track so we run around a softball field and two small soccer fields. Four loops is equivalent to one mile, but unlike the consistency of a track we have to dodge gofer holes, minor mounds and hills, grass that needs to be mowed and sometimes lovely presents left by inconsiderate dog walkers.

The first two laps were a breeze. I was feeling pretty good keeping up with the more average runners. We were smiling and talking. My assistant coach even made the comment, “Look, Coach Emily must be running at home. She’s not even breaking a sweat.”


I started slowing down on lap three and fell behind the pace setters. Fortunately, I was able to recover by letting the slower runners think I was sacrificing my work-out to run with them. But my competitive nature wouldn’t allow me to rest too long – I was determined to leave practice with my pride intact and not look like an out-of-shape, late 30-something-year-old SAHM trying her best to keep up with a bunch of 11 and 12-year-old healthy girls. So I kicked it up a notch, pushing through a side-cramp, barreling against a nasty head-wind. I was trying to remember all of my running tips, like breathing, but instead of calmly inhaling through my nose and exhaling through my mouth, I suddenly gasped for air like someone who had been holding their breath through an unbearable stank until emerging on the other side and gulping in as much oxygen as possible. Unfortunately, I was running through a school of gnats on a field-trip and ate about half of their attendees in the process. So now I was trying to ignore the ever-increasing pain in my side, a mouthful of bugs while still keeping my head up and smiling.

“You…gasp, choke, cough…can do it girls!” I cheered, passing a group of walkers.

Rounding the corner of lap 6 I started to feel my rear tighten, and not in a good way. My sciatica was doing a dance with each step. You remember that song lyric, “Little in the middle, but she’s got much back”? Yeah, well, that’s me and it has become more apparent in the last few years that the fault line has been shifting. I knew it was bad when my husband pointed out on vacation last summer that he could see two perfectly formed crescent shapes directly under my butt-cheeks where I had not tanned. Apparently my pseudo-sumo wrestler stance in the stand-up tanning bed (feet shoulder width apart, slightly squatting) was not enough. Why hasn’t anyone figured out a tool that will prop our fallen cheeks up enough to tan evenly? So now I was running while trying to ignore the backs of my upper thighs being smacked by an over-abundance of junk in my trunk.

Just two more laps and I will have hit this week’s schedule of two-mile runs, I kept repeating to myself. I don’t think I was smiling any more because now I was being greeted with looks of concern from passing teammates.

“Just…keep…it…up…girls” I gasped.

My head was pounding, my heart raced wildly and sweat dripped over my face, causing my glasses to shift further and further down my nose. With a couple of minutes and one lap to go to complete my goal, I started the negative self-talk. “Why am I doing this? I’m crazy to think that I will ever really become a runner.” Most of the girls had finished their run. I could see them gulping from an array of brightly colored water bottles and walking off the work-out. As I approached the last quarter, some of the girls started waving and shouting, “You can do it Coach Emily. Keep it up!” and suddenly a spurt of energy surged and I pushed through in record time.

Crossing the “finish” line into sweaty arms of excited middle school girls fueled my spirit, replenishing frustration with fearlessness. I think they were smiling for me just as much as I was for them. Hands stretched in front of my face, proudly displaying colorful plastic beads representing each of their laps. Almost everyone had completed a minimum of two miles in about 30 minutes. This is a big deal for a group of girls who have been running only twice a week over the last 3 weeks.

And we did it together.

2 thoughts on “Strength in Numbers

  1. I am almost peeing myself – ‘cheek prop’ – tears in my eyes!

    Also, Girl DO NOT TAN! We are no longer 20! We know better, and have many reasons NOT to die of skin cancer! 🙂

    1. I do have many reasons too – and trust me, I don’t tan regulary…it was just to get ready for a family cruise. I didn’t want to blind anybody with my Michigan white legs.

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