As I sit reclined on the beached reservoir dock with my body positioned toward the sun, hat brim tipped down to shade my already sun-damaged nose, I imagine the labored breathing of the women of Little Wing currently doing intervals on the reservoir’s dirt roads. On these hallowed training grounds of Boulder, Colorado, eleven years ago, I once sought an infusion of something from the Earth into my shoes, something ethereal left behind by all the famous footsteps that came before me. I wonder if Jess, Mel, and Collier are seeking that too, right now, as I sit here warming my skin, watching my son throw sticks at the water’s edge. I wonder if they need the magic as much as I did back then.
I had no team at 23 years old when I came to Boulder to train. I stayed as a guest at the Slattery’s home, Sara and Steve, who showed me the trails and generously folded me into their community. That’s how I rolled for five of the first 6 years of my pro career. Alone, with no attachments to anyone or anything who could hold me back, willing to live out of a bag or a van in whatever environments were necessary, 100% intent on creating the best possible macro- and micro-preparation to be the best in the world.
It was at this reservoir that I had what still stands as one of the hardest workouts of my entire career. It was a Michigan workout, but instead of doing it on the track, Coach Vin Lananna wanted me to do it as a fartlek (by time), on dirt roads to avoid getting caught up in comparisons as I adjusted to the altitude. And instead of doing the “women’s version” I had done for years, I was finally given the ok to do the “men’s version,” which was tailored to the longer cross country distances men raced in college. I felt like I was going into uncharted territory.
The Slattery’s pointed me to the Boulder Reservoir as a place I could run for miles without interruption or risk of getting lost. I’ll never forget the suffering from that day. All alone, the wind whipping my face, the unexpected rolling hills spiking my heart rate into the red zone, and my breath was impossible to catch. I remember so clearly the feeling of being physically out of control: a little scary, but mostly thrilling. My coach was known for his restraint, and this was one of the only times I was given permission pursue effort with no ceiling. The prospect of falling apart was actually exciting. That wouldn’t always be the case; there would be years where fear of failing paralyzed me and zapped all the joy out of my running, but that day at the reservoir something critical unlocked in me.
Jude hops along the gritty sand bank that lines the water’s edge, dragging a stick in the water. The ripples left behind add contours to an otherwise flat pool filled with sky. The stillness of this day couldn’t be more different than how the wind howled in my face 11 years ago. The sun warms my pale thighs and I think about how much I want to move them, how much force they’ve generated. I check my watch to estimate how much longer they’ll be running. It won’t be long now.
I imagine them in the hardest part of the workout, feeling surprised at how hard it is to breathe, using their discipline to rid themselves of expectation or comparison in order to simply work their bodies the best way possible in the moment. I think about how they have each other, and me, and how a team generates some of the magic I once sought in the Earth here. But also how each of them is, and always will be, so necessarily alone. During our time here I will watch them wrestle with the space between where they are and where they want to be. I will put them in environments designed to prompt not only the physical fitness necessary to get there, but also the growth of the human spirit to get them there fully alive.
As I hear their footsteps approaching the car, my heart beats faster with anticipation for how it all went down out there, and I almost forget to grab Jude to bring him with me to find out. My excitement in this moment reminds me of a simple truth I figured out sometime between my first reservoir workout and this one: that there is no pot of gold waiting at the end of the achievement rainbow. And there is no magic in this Earth that you don’t bring here yourself.
Over and Out from #CampHighAndTight2016.