A Run Down Memory Lane, Part 9: Fast

It’s already been documented that I ran through most of my childhood. What began as “fun runs” and “all comers” meets gradually became a way of life. By high school, running was pretty much a year-round commitment. High school cross country, AAU cross country, high school track, summer track, the occasional road race…I was (and am) a runner. It’s not a bad way to be.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my parents paid good money to send me to a running camp. It was actually a wonderful opportunity and fantastic timing — for my high school years, the Jim Ryun Running Camp happened to be located in my hometown. I trained with some wonderful people, learned a lot about various running and health-related topics, and made some great friends…all at the discounted “day camper” rate that my folks could afford. Win/win.

One of the best things about JRRC was having other people to run with. No, not just other people: other GIRLS. This is going to sound arrogant, and I don’t mean it to be, but at my (fairly small) Kansas school, I was the “fast girl.” We had a decent cross country team, yes, but most of my teammates were middle distance runners — better suited to the 800m than the 2-mile. Our disparate strengths and my need for higher mileage meant that I was frequently running with the boys’ team instead of the girls’. The guys and I were friends, but I always looked forward to camp as an opportunity to run with girls just like me. Other “fast girls,” state champions and school record holders who also trained solo or with the fellas for the rest of the year. For that one week, we got to run together, chat together, and challenge each other. It was amazing!

I’m not sure there’s any sport like running, where you can be constantly and quantifiably reminded of where you stand. I think it lends itself to a sort of built-in humility…you always, always, always know that there’s someone faster than you out there. The numbers tell you so. My 11:32 two-mile won a KS 4A State Championship? Awesome! Of course, the 6A state champ ran close to 11:00. Someone out in California or Colorado or Texas probably ran under 10:50. When you know that there are people out there who are capable of lapping you as you run the fastest race of your life, well…you know with certainty that the title of “fast girl” comes with several asterisks.

Mine looks like this:

Megan is fast.*

* on a good day
* at a distance of at least 2 miles
* when compared to other girls
* in Kansas
* in the Class 4A

Whew. Safe to say, humility and an honest perspective of oneself are easy characteristics for runners to hang onto.

There is one year, however, where I must have needed a reminder. A reminder that I wasn’t the fastest…not even close. This was the year the Californians came to camp…and an incident that I still think of as:

That One Time Sara Bei Ran Me Into the Ground Without Even Trying 

Sidenote: Writing this entire post has made me feel incredibly old. I’ve had to consult with my brother on everything from the years I actually attended camp to who else was there in a particular year. For one thing, I was pretty sure that Sara attended camp the same year that her future husband, Ryan Hall did. Brother informs me that this was false, and looking at the group picture  from Ryan’s first year (1999) confirmed it. Brother told me that Sara first attended in 2000, but she’s not in the group photo. Then I realized that brother and I weren’t in the group photo, either, so I thought maybe they’d taken the picture without a lot of us there? This mystery drove me crazy until brother reminded me that this was the year our uncle had died unexpectedly, and we missed a day of camp to go to the funeral. Then I felt sad and guilty that I had forgotten that, but it finally helped me finalize the timeline:

1998 – Megan goes to camp.
1999 – Megan and Matt go to camp. Ryan Hall is there, too.
2000 – Megan and Matt go to camp, but pretty much the only thing we both remember clearly is an ultimate frisbee game on a gloriously cool (60 degree) Kansas summer day. We remember this mostly because three of our friends from Florida sat miserably on the sidelines, wondering why on earth anyone would live somewhere that could be so COLD in the summer.
2001 – Matt goes to camp, Megan works a terrible summer job in the college cafeteria, but shows up at camp for most of the workouts.

THIS IS THE LONGEST SIDENOTE EVER! Back to the real blog post:

In the year we have decided is 2001, a couple of girls from California made the trip to Kansas to attend camp. They arrived the day before camp actually started, and a bunch of us townies headed to the college campus to meet them and the counselors for a run. The group was mostly guys — my brother, a few of his buddies, some counselors who were college runners, the Ryun brothers, and a coach. There were the two girls from California, however, so I was comforted in the fact that I wouldn’t be the only girl.

We headed off on a mid-morning run, and typical for a Kansas summer it was heating up fast. I wasn’t initially worried about keeping up. I may not have the fastest all-out speed, but I have plenty of endurance and even if the pace pushes me into a “moderate” heart rate zone, I can stay there for some time. After several big wins in my career, and as someone preparing for a college running career, I was beginning to see myself as:

Megan is fast.*

* maybe not the best at 1600m or under, BUT
* she can keep up with anyone on a long run.

This view was about to change.

We trailed the guys’ group by only a few meters, and in the excitement of meeting new people and having girls to run with it took me almost a mile to realize that their pace — and ours — was far outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t know the exact split, but I knew it was well below my usual 8:00 “easy” training pace, and that there was not a single chance of my being able to maintain it for the proposed 7-mile run.

The question was…what could I do? I sure didn’t want to be the one to ask to slow down. See above: I was fast. I could hang with anyone for a distance run. Me? Admit I couldn’t handle the pace? Ohhhhhhh no. There was only one thing for it — I was going to have to suck it up and somehow survive the run. Mind over matter, Megan. Mind over matter.

I grew ever more focused on breathing. I was probably a miserable running partner, because I couldn’t have contributed much to a conversation in my oxygen-deprived state. At about the two mile mark, one of the girls, Sara, looked down at her fancy Nike watch (it was one of the first ones to track pace and distance) and said, “oh. We’re doing 6:30s.”

Her tone, so nonchalant, casual, and cheery, made me really look at her…and that is when I realized just how in far over my head I was. SHE WASN’T HURTING. Not one tiny, teensy little bit. There was no possibility of her deciding to slow down — running 6:30 pace for a 7-miler on a hot day was no big thing. For me, of course, it was a threshold run…fine, fine, it was an all-out race.

Dear goodness, I thought to myself. I am going to die, and Sara is going to be completely confused when I fall into the ditch. “I don’t know what happened, Officer, we were just out for an easy run, then all of a sudden she fell over.”

I stole a glance at Laura, an 800m runner from California, and saw that she looked nearly as miserable and determined as I felt. Well, that’s something, I thought. At least it’s not just me. Then, I made a tough but necessary choice:

“Um, I’m gonna have to slow down. You guys can go run with the boys if you want.”

With a chipper, “ok, see ya, good job!” Sara was off down the road, quickly making up the distance between our group and the guys. Laura and I admitted to each other that we were both dying and opted to take the 5-mile turnaround with a short walking break for obvious, life-preserving reasons.

It still makes me laugh today. I was so sure that I was tough enough to hang with anyone. Then, along came Sara, who unintentionally ran me into the ground in the first two miles of what was to her an EASY run. Running with her didn’t necessarily rob me of any confidence, but it certainly refreshed my perspective. Almost anyone can run, improve upon their own times, and be justifiably proud of their achievements. It is only a very, very few, however, who are spectacularly talented and fiercely dedicated enough to stand apart from the pack. Sara is one of those. She is a professional runner today, and she is FAST…no disclaimers or qualifiers necessary.

– – –

I had a photo here when I hit “publish,” but it turns out that it WASN’T from the year that Sara attended camp so I deleted it. Brother Matt liked it, though, and a couple of you have already seen it so now it’s back. Super cool blog points to anyone who IDs ANYONE from the photo (and yes, there are some Olympians).

JIm Ryun Running Camp, 1999

JIm Ryun Running Camp, 1999

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4 responses

  1. Megan,

    Very nice blog, so descriptive it felt like I was there. I must admit that I was never really a runner. I have run some 10k when I was younger.

    This story reminded me of a day that I went running with your dad, my brother Tom. We were just a fun run, and Tom said do you want to see what race pace is? And I said yes, and very soon was totally taxed out. And I am not saying I went very far. But you guys have my respect.

    • Thank you! The blog has been a hobby of mine for several years now.

      I can totally picture Dad turning a fun run into a race, and I can DEFINITELY imagine how that must have felt. You’re very brave! 🙂

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