Friday, March 30, 2012

Monster Run

I eye the girl to my left, sweating out the last few minutes of spin class. Diane, comfy and sweet. She'd make for a pleasant run companion, she looks kind. I peer to my right. Not sure of her name: Jennifer? Jessica? Thirties, confident, elegant blond pony tail. Quietly serious. She looks sort of fast.

A running companion on this cold March morning would be nice. I'm supposed to be running within a few minutes of dismounting. Think they'd join me? Our legs are slowing down in the last minute of spin class and I get up the courage and just say it: "Anyone wanna do a little out-and-back 20-minute run?"

"What a great idea," says teacher Nellie. "I'll join you next week."

"Naw," says Diane," I gotta get to work."

"Sure'" says the unknown Jennifer, or is it Jessica. "Today's my day off. That would be good."

She's off the bike and ready in 45 seconds. A little too fast. She's done this before, I'm thinking. Like a cat meeting his superior I show my belly. "You look fast." I say. Maybe I'm hoping she disagrees, but she doesn't say anything.

And we're running in the rain.

"Do you know the way?" I ask. "How to get on the trail?"

"No, I'm from Sauk," she says. I point to the turn. We keep running.

"How far of a drive is it for you to spin class?" she asks pleasantly, settling in, making conversation for an enjoyable outing. We compare commutes. I sense she's got more oxygen available than I do, but I want to be nice. I try to answer well, and bounce the questions back to her. We compare pools (she swims in Sauk), families, (she's got three boys, ages seven, five, and two), spin teachers (she's never had a class with Scott). I'm  abbreviating my sentences. Not so much air to spare. Noticing my heartrate. Rising.

I've been on her side of things before, the side that has plenty of oxygen and wants to make the workout pleasant for others. I've swam with newbies, when I had time to roll over on my back and gaze at the clouds. I've rode with people who were just a touch slower than me, chatted to distract them from their effort.

Ah, but being on the oxygen-debt side; that's painfully different. I rode hills with an amazement who talked interestingly and continually, interspersing encouragement, all as we ascended. Her never-ending, caffeine-laced ebullience took not a jot of effort. I've swum next to a record-holding mermaid who flashed by so fast that in one of my breaths she appeared, approached, and slipped beyond. Was this Jen/Jes one of those? A sleek, blond monster with Lance Armstrong's VO2 max and Deana Caster's pace? And just what was her name?

"I'm Jessica, by the way," says Jessica. Now I'm worried she's a mind reader as well.

Flat trail, no other runners, rain falling, cold. The pace is hard. Plain hard. I see my heartrate. Zone four, no. That's zone five. Isn't five the top zone? It hadn't been this high riding hills in spin class. "What are you training for?" says kind, monster Jessica.

I want to brag a bit. Want to save some face. Want to say, "the Capital View Tri in Middleton, Olympic distance. It's all hills both on bike and run. It's a trail run. I took third in my age the first year I did it. The year of the big floods and tornadoes. Remember that year? Could hardly get home after, roads were getting washed out, trees going down, it was wild." Not enough air. To say. All that. "A June tri," I say. "Middleton."

"I was thinking of doing that one again," she says, in a grammatically complete way. "I did it last year. It's hilly," she says.


A little quiet.

I need to get her talking. "Where are your boys now?" I get out.

Her husband's watching them. She needs her workout time to stay sane. I totally understand but I can't say so. I want to say that's great that your husband gets it. I say, "Uh, huh."

Run, breath. Wish I had my Garmin on but she was ready to go so fast I didn't take the time to grab it. Good gracious, how fast are we going. And she's not even trying.

"What's your favorite? Swim. Bike. Or run?" I pant.

"Oh, I'm best at swimming but I guess I like running most. Running seems to give me the best workout. But I was on swim team when I was a kid. I love swimming. They didn't have a high school team for us, but I was on a team in grade school. I'd spend whole summers swimming. I loved it."

"Oh," pant. I want to say, hey there's some great open water swim events. I want to talk about the swims I did last year in some of the Great Lakes. I want to test the water and see if she's interested in that sort of thing, maybe we could ride together or train a little in Devil's Lake together. Breath. All I say is "oh." This is like having my teeth cleaned.

"Are there good trails by you?" she asks.

"Not close." Brief, but answered. "How about you?" I get out.

"Nothing without a long drive," she says. "Wanna climb that hill?" she says. I look up. A one-block stiff hill. It's the turnaround.

"Go on." I say. "Catch you. Coming down." She goes on.

She floats up the hill. I plod. I see her ascend, ascend, ascend. I'm waiting for her to turn so I can stop climbing. Eventually. She comes back. "Nice," I say. "Good climb," I say. We descend.

If only I can keep her talking, get her using more air. My heartrate has moved from zone 5 to a zone I hadn't previously met. It's off the chart. Literally. I'm feeling a little pukey. Muscles in my calves are feeling icy stiff. The rain keeps falling. It's 36 degrees. What would get her talking. "Do you have. Ironman hopes?" I ask.

"My husband's done a couple." She says. "I've done Door county's sprint and a few others. I did a half. I do a half-marathon every year, too. Been to Appleton, Madison, some others. I'd like to do Ironman, maybe when my two-year-old starts school. It takes so much training time."

"Yah." I say. I gotta slow down. But I don't say that.

"You win. Things. Don't you." I say.

"Well, not really, but last year I took second in my age at the Capital View sprint," she admits.

Heartrate 171. Didn't know it went that high. Not enough breath to think of a new topic. No breath to speak. She's gliding. Blond pony tail graceful in the rain. Easy strides with long legs. She could do this forever. Five minutes left. I can do this, I can do this, I can't do this. I gotta slow down.

"I gotta slow down," I say it.

"Oh, that's fine," she says.

"I understand if you, wanna run ahead," I say. We've slowed. I'm getting a little more breath. "I know you gotta, get home."

"No, this is fine." she says. She's so nice; I know she could sprint it in. We're only five minutes out, she's got lots left, she could dash to the end as a nice finish to her easy run.

I can see our cars parked up ahead. I can't start walking before she does. "It's just about 20 minutes," she says, checking her watch. The pace slows. We're walking. I hope I wasn't too slow. I hope she wasn't too bored.

"Thanks for kicking my butt," I say. "That was great. If I ran with you more often I'd definitely get faster."

"Yeah," she says. "I've run with some fast people. It makes a difference."

"Yah. Thanks. Stay warm." I don't know what else to say.