Feel Free to Lead

I have been traveling along the dirt, mud, rocks, and spiderwebs for nearly three months now. Through the conditioning, running, and sweat I have learned this valuable piece of knowledge…

…I am not fast.

Truthfully. I frequently forget that I run with people that have been on the trails for three, five, or even ten years compared to my twelve weeks. From someone that has transitioned from the road to the rocks, it can be very hard to realize that you have to find your own pace, your own style, your own speed in the world of death defying leaps, rocky acrobatics, and meals consisting of dirt and decaying fungus.

You are truly you.

With that in mind, last week I was able to witness a unique event that I will forever store in my memory bank of “when I was trail runner” that I’ll harass great grand-children with somewhere down the road.

Due to the amount of rain we had received over a span of several days, several of our usual trails were closed while they dried out. In this event, when gathering to run, we head off to a small little trail called, “The Dog Park”. It is a six mile out-and-back trail that travels through a leash-free section of city park. For those not terrified of dogs, it has its own challenges. For those mortified of fido its mental survival is a struggle in itself.

The course is fast; it starts very rocky, but afterwards it widens out and you can get moving at a rather solid click. My goal, really since receiving a heart warming letter about someones first complete ‘Dog Park’ run (all six miles) was to complete that six miles. I started slow, hanging out in the back, walking, chatting, and watching the others head off with speed. I have learned that I thoroughly enjoy trying to catch people while running. I started moving from the last group to the mid-group, nearly tripped over two dogs and continued to try to find the head group. What was amazing is seeing that this course is a great gauge to see where your cardio stands. I ran and ran and ran and ran and tripped and ran and ran for what seemed forever. I splashed through mud, jumped through a creek bed, and scaled some old railroad ties. Before I knew it, I heard laughter…and I was at the end of the three mile jaunt.

I was breathing heavy, trying to catch my breath, and attempting to ignore the haunting reality:

Now you have to make it back to the shelter house before it gets dark.

Saying this fear out loud I believe it what spurred the next comment from the pack…

Shawn, why don’t you lead us out?

Before I continue the story; please understand the group that was at ‘the end’ of the course. A lady who had just finished a 100 mile race, a lady who caused me to dry-heave the week prior with a sub-10:00 minute mile pace, a lady who crushed her first 50K this past weekend, and a lady with insane amounts of distance races under her belt. Note the above passage…I…am…not…fast.

trail-tip-11I almost faked an injury at that moment to prevent the reality that was coming on fast. However, my brain and legs did not meet in agreement and before I knew it I was heading out, back down the trail with one of the runners yelling, “Shawn! You’re going too fast!” knowing that I would eventually fall victim to my unknown arrogance of fear of being passed. For nearly half a mile I led the group, listening to one of the runners step right behind me step for step. It was the sub-10:00 runner; I knew I was toast. I tried as long as I could, but in a conversationalist tone, she politely asked, “Mind if I just hop around you here real quick?” If I had not been wheezing due to being out of breath, I may have sobbed slightly at how easily she made the request.

Around she went.

She disappeared for the next two miles. Meaning, that everyone else was still behind me. I tried to keep the speed fresh for the varsity squad, but they continued to talk amongst themselves while we jumped over trees, rivers, and dogs; ignoring the fact that darkness was coming soon.

Leading is weird. You do not know what you are supposed to do. You are afraid of letting people down, being ‘too easy’, or trying too hard and getting injured in the process. You know the guy that sees the attractive girl running on the street and tries to run with her, but hasn’t seen running shoes since high school? Eventually he steps away, dying, and she continues on. That, that is kind of what leading feels like. At any moment you are just waiting for your legs, heart, or lungs to stop operating (the brain already stopped because…well…you are running on dirt for fun).

Through the gasp of a fish-out-of-water I said, “I’m sorry for being slow!” while trying to scale a rocky edge to the group behind me. “Don’t worry! You’re fine, if I wanted to pass you I would have already done it*”, the runner behind me reassured me.

Through the tropically trees, rounded rocks, and muddy paths I eventually emerged from the path, feeling like Indiana Jones and a boulder flying up behind him. I had done it. The full six mile section, while leading a group on the way out. It was not a race, it was not a ‘first’, and it was not spectacular, but the reality that I was able to lead struck a note in my soul that I could not let go of.

Even if you are not fast.
Even if you are not a 100 mile runner.
When you are running with the right people.
It is alright to lead.


*I love people and their kindness. “If I wanted to pass you, I would go ahead and pass you” is such a motivating phrase of kindness…until you realize miles later how far out of your league you really are with these people.

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