So I’m working on my list. First up - running with the local chapters of Achilles International and Lending Sight. Check! This past Monday in Denver’s beautiful Wash Park marked my fourth run with the groups, practically local celebrities thanks to recent attention from features in 5280 Magazine and most recently on Channel 9 News.
I was greeted by a familiar group of smiling faces and tore myself away from conversation about racing with one of my newest ol’ buddies ol’ pals Randall to catch up with Jessica before our second run together. But first, we took a minute to say ‘Cheese!’
As it does this time of year, the sun sets quickly. By the time we got started, light was quickly fading, leaving us to lap the park in the dark. This was new to me. The last time I ran with the group, summer was still in full swing; it was lighter later into the evening.
The dark was one more thing – in addition to others on the dirt trail circling the park, their pets, their strollers – to get in the way of guiding Jessica tonight. It made me a bit nervous. I was happy that another guide, Scott, was going to run with us.
“How many laps are we running tonight, Jessica?” “Maybe just one.” She had recently hurt her foot and had been having pangs of pain periodically when she ran. “Maybe I’ll run one and walk one. We’ll see.”
The first lap went smoothly and seemed to go by quickly. “So that’s one lap. Want to walk one?” “I’m OK. I want to keep running. The pain’s not that bad.” And so, we continued on for a second lap, this time without Scott. OK, one more. Here goes.
“Just let me know if you need me to slow down or if you want to stop and walk for a bit, Jess. We can run/walk if your foot hurts.” “OK.”
As we ran, I found myself breaking up the trail into pieces – smaller stretches of trail rather than miles - in my head and trying to focus on reaching the endpoint of each piece, something I typically do during speed workouts or long runs. Just like in those cases, it was helping me to accomplish the feat of guiding through the dark park lit only by occasional lamp posts offering short-lived illuminated relief.
Like the other athletes, Jessica didn’t miss a beat. Every time I turned back to ask, “Are you feeling OK?” or “Your foot holding up?” she was close behind, didn’t need to stop, never missed a beat. In fact, I had to speed up more than once to keep just ahead of her as she preferred of her guides.
With only about a quarter mile to go, I was finally able to relax. “Just past this turn coming up on the left, we’ll be done!” And, finally, we were there. A “Nice job!”, friendly conversation, and short walk back to the rec center later, we were reunited with the group. I was happy to have been a part of the evening. It was a great feeling to start off a new week!
Running challenges me – one of the many reasons I love it so much – and guiding will be a new kind of challenge for me, one that I hope I can meet while helping others in the process, one that I feel will prove especially rewarding.
I think this is going to be the start of a beautiful relationship. And I don’t need to see it to believe it.
Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.