My first running stint started when I was going in to 11th grade. I joined the cross country team and I can't recall at all what prompted me to do that. The first coaches' practice was in late August, two weeks before the start of school. I showed up and nearly died that first practice. I would love to be able to remember what prompted me to join the team, and I would really love to know why I kept showing up after that first practice. It. Was. Miserable. That I remember clearly. The only other things I remember are that the coach was encouraging, and I was dead last. And both of those things would remain true for the rest of the season. Every single practice and every single race I would come in last. On more than one occasion during workouts I lost the team. We lived in bluff country and ran those trails frequently, and more often than not I would not just lose sight of the team, I would lose my way entirely. My second year, my senior year, was a bit better. I was stronger and faster than the year before, but still no match for my state bound teammates, varsity and junior varsity alike. I still lost the team more times than I could count.
This was such a hallmark of my cross country career that when graduation rolled around my family decided to immortalize this on my graduation cake. My mother, grandmother, and one of my sisters were caught on camera as accomplices to my brother-in-law positioning the blond runner heading in one direction and the rest of the team in the other. They thought this was pretty funny, and I think I did too. Certainly in retrospect I do! That's good humor, family. (And look at them in the photo--they are working at it so seriously!)
I had forgotten about that cake until recently when I came across those photos. It struck me how often I really did lose the team--so much so that everybody got the joke on the cake. It struck me that I stepped way outside of my comfort zone in every way to be on that team. And it struck me that it must have taken a lot of cojones for me to show up day after day after day, knowing that I would mostly run by myself. Even so, it was a fantastically positive experience. I remember loving cross country. I loved the coach, I loved the workouts, I loved the uniforms, and I loved being part of a team. And I felt like I was part of the team--not at all on the outside of something. Grant it this was 39 years ago, but I don't remember the hardship of this experience, I remember what it did for me.
And now I'm about to step out of that comfort zone again. Tomorrow I am going to my second running camp of the year. I cried before the first camp in February--I wanted to turn around and go home. I was way out of my comfort zone in all regards, but of course that isn't the lasting memory. The lasting memory is how incredibly worth while it was, in all regards. You would think I would have some comfort going into this one, being that I've recently done this, but this one feels more intimidating than the first. The location is more intimidating--it's at elevation and chock full of elite runners. The workouts sound intimidating, and the other runners and coaches are impressive. I'm not acclimated to the altitude, I am no where near my peak in performance, and I've got a knee injury that I'm in limbo about--somewhere between diagnosis and a visit with the doctor for possible treatment options. I am, most definitely out of my comfort zone.
But then I saw the photo of this cake again today--me going one way, the team going the other--and for some reason it made me excited about camp. That little plastic runner on that cake represents that little runner I talk about who lived deep inside me. I credit her for keeping the fire burning when I was doing everything in my power to snuff it out. But she knew better. She knew that we know how to go our own way. She knew that running held a significant place in our life, even if I abandoned it for 20 years. She clearly was not afraid to operate outside the comfort zone; in fact she knew that's where the great things happen.
So I'm going to put that picture in my notebook and head to camp tomorrow. I belonged on that team back in 1983, and I belong with this team now. And I am confident that it will go as it always does when I step out of my comfort zone--great things will happen.