Running with, not against

It’s Saturday morning and the YMCA pool is packed. A toddler class in the kids’ pool is making a ruckus and every lane in the big pool has two, three or four swimmers paddling away at various paces. All except lane 3.

But when Bill and I, who want to work out together, propose circle swimming to that lane’s sole occupant, she replies curtly, “One of you may share my lane.”

Well, then. It stings when you’re on the receiving end, but I’ve doled out my share of complaints and sour faces when stranger-swimmers have asked me to circle swim. Sharing is uncomfortable, especially when pace is involved.

We have 80 minutes left until our kid needs to be picked up from the Lots of Tots room. We’ll figure this out. I nudge Bill to split Lane 3  and strike out on my own toward Lane 5.

Four swimmers – fast women – circle swim.

“Want to join us?” the leader says when she comes up for rest at the end of the lane.

“You doing a coordinated workout?” I yell down.

“Two 100s, four 50s.”

And she’s off again. The three others follow. If I joined their workout, I’d struggle to keep up, becoming the obstacle messing up their pace. But they’re willing to let me in.

The leader pops up again.

“I’ll tail you,” I say. “I’ll stay out of your way.”

So swim along in their wake like a leaf pulled along by a current. By the time the leader is close to lapping me, I’m warmed up and they have finished their workout.

There’s enough room in this pool for everyone after all.

It reminds me of running the Gorges Half Marathon last Saturday. As I and a few hundred other runners made our way down the sun-dappled tunnel of the Black Diamond Trail in the first miles, I thought, “I’m running with these folks, not against them.”

I used to feel, especially during races, that I was pitted against everyone else on the course. Would that older man edge past me? Could I catch up with that ten year old? A woman pushing a double stroller passed me with a half mile to go! (True story) What shame!

This approach added a lot of stress to races. I eased away from this approach by running a series of four 5Ks in January. Week after week, I got to know the runners around me and chat at the finish. It’s hard to feel threatened by friends.

The preposition shift took hold in my mind partway through the Skunk Cabbage Half Marathon in April. “I’m not running against these people,” I said to myself as I was pulled along by a heavy-calved man who looked like he’d have more fun on a football field than on a hilly 13.1 mile run. Yet there he was, running a tad faster than I was. “I’m running with them.”

Small but profound, the shift helped me relax into the hills and, I believe, ultimately run a faster race. It was certainly more fun.

It’s fun to run a good time, it’s nice to place well, but the real point is in being part of the river of runners, winding our way through a course.

So I’m practicing for the next time I’m the one with an early claim to a lane: Sure, jump in. Swim with me, run with me. There’s room enough for us all.

1 Comment

  1. Raymond Shuster on August 8, 2022 at 1:38 pm

    These are wonderful insights. I love the circle from “circle swimming” to “the river of runners”. Life is better when lived in cooperation or coordination rather than in competition, at least to me. But then, I’m a musician.

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