25. That Should Have Been a Left

25. That Should Have Been a Left

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

That Should Have Been a Left

I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.
 ~Daniel Boone

Individually and in small groups of two and three, runners stumbled like survivors of a shipwreck toward their cars. Dripping sweat, they poured water down parched throats. Few things in life compare to running in North Carolina humidity. In mid-summer, the air is thick enough to hold a mosquito mid-flight. But more than just hot, the runners were discouraged. For the fifth time in as many weeks, the cue sheet for the group run had been wrong, tacking on an additional 1.95 miles to an already miserable 15-mile run.

“Sorry guys,” said Marisa, our running coach. She had the decency to look embarrassed. “That right turn onto Cotswold listed on the cue sheet? That should have been a left.”

We let her live only because we were too whipped as a group to summon the energy required to knock her down.

This was year two of a marathon-training program. The first year, the owners of a specialty running store in town had run the program, preparing many of us for what would be our first marathon. Having caught the running bug, most of our group had returned for another season. With the popularity of the training program growing, the store owners hired a professional trainer to take over the daily logistics of transforming a group of so-so runners into marathon-ready competitors.

Our trainer Marisa is a 5’10” brunette beauty with a soft voice and an absent-mindedness more readily associated with blondes. But behind the girly veneer beats the heart of a warrior. While training our group, Marisa was preparing for her third Ironman competition. Which made us wonder, as we complained about having to do speed work or run yet another 10-miler, if she on some occasions just wanted to smack us. The feeling, however, was often reciprocal.

“I can’t believe the cue sheet was wrong again,” moaned one runner. “How hard is it to map a route?”

“Doesn’t she drive the route she plans for us?” said another runner, pouring water over her head. “I’m tired of getting lost.”

She had a point. On the tangled streets of Greensboro, North Carolina, pockets of us running at different paces criss-crossed one another’s paths as we tried to decipher where exactly, this time, the cue sheet had gone wrong.

“We’ve already passed this park twice.”

“Let’s backtrack to the last traffic light and try going straight.”

“I swear to God, I’m quitting and calling my wife to come get me if we don’t figure this out in the next mile.”

For her part, Marisa seemed oblivious to how disheartening it was for our group to mentally prepare for a 14-mile run and then be forced to run 17 due to cue sheet malfunctions.

“Just think how strong you’re getting!” she chirped.

We didn’t feel strong. We hurt. Marisa’s training didn’t resemble what we’d done the year before. That first year, our group mainly met just to run. This year, Marisa introduced us to ab work, fartleks, hills that rivaled what a person seeking to climb Mount Everest might do, and a particularly evil concept known as a “progression” run where we were told to pick up speed throughout the run, ending with an all-out sprint.

But over the course of three months, something miraculous happened. Our times improved. Hills that once reduced us to tears now weren’t so hard. And getting lost every Sunday on our long run became less of a misery and more of a standing joke.

“Here are the cue sheets,” said Marisa, passing out the thin slips of paper late in the season. “Today’s run is 19 miles.”

“That means 30!” cried the group, winking and nudging each other.

“No, no. Seriously, I triple checked this,” said Marisa, her face earnest. “This one is 19.”

When we stumbled in at 20.2 with yet another left missing from the sheet, Marisa held her head in her hands. “I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed. “I went over and over that sheet. I can’t believe I missed that.”

Finally, our race days arrived. We e-mailed each other good luck and followed the split times of runners through online race sites. Again and again, runners from our group met or exceeded their goals. “I felt strong,” more than one person e-mailed the group about their finish.

Marisa is training next year’s group and all of us are eager to re-enlist. Like the pain of a marathon, the sting of an erroneous cue sheet quickly fades from the mind. If anything, those long, hot summer runs where we stumbled lost through the streets brought us together as a group. So much so, that we decided to purchase T-shirts to commemorate our time spent together.

The white wicking shirts are a tribute to simplicity. On the front, they have the name given to our group by Marisa, “Team Evolve.” And on the back, in block letters, one short phrase that will forever bring a smile to the lips of every runner in our group from that summer.

“That Should Have Been A Left.”

~Dena Harris

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