When I first started running, just about the time that I finally slayed Chevron, I encountered Pony Tail Girl. Blog flashback. Chevron was the dragon that I needed to slay first. Effectively, if I could run to the Chevron gas station that would be a major event. I laugh that that now, of course. I had no concept that I would be running that distance 10X every morning! Anyway, during this time, I was just starting to attempt to circle the block without stopping. That would mean that I would have to run a full 2 miles without taking a break. This was my second major milestone and progress was slow. One Friday morning, I was trudging along trying not to pass out, when Pony Tail Girl zipped past me. Her blond ponytail bobbing back and forth, matching outfit, awesome Solomon running shoes, the whole package. She did not just passed me, she FLEW past me.
This was a moment of deep self-reflection. Was I going to let a small little blond woman beat me like that? Fly past me as if I was crawling (which I was btw)? I knew this was a macho pride thing, silly thoughts, but it started to boil deep down within. I was being a tired, old, loser. Time to get some real conviction behind what I was doing. The next Saturday, I finally did complete that loop and I was excited. I finally made it around the entire block. What an accomplishment.
I started working on the next feat. To run around the block and then down the length of this bike path. That would effectively be about 6 miles. This seemed crazy to me, an feat that was so outside of what I thought possible. One day, while I was attempting this, I was running along the bike path. I was enjoying the outdoors, the sunshine, the trees, flowers, broken down cars behind an old apartment building. Then it happened again. Pony Tail Girl came up behind me. She tailed me for about 30 seconds. Just enough to know that I was there, and then with a sudden burst of energy blew past me. Pony tail once again bobbing back and forth. Legs moving in perfect motion, back up right, shoulders back, arms swinging in perfect harmony. She destroyed my spirit for at least a week.
The battle with Pony Tail Girl continued for another year. We would not always run at the same time, but every once and awhile I would see her out in the neighborhood running. Sure enough, she would find a way to pass me, and with some fanfare. Then one day, about 18 months in to the process of learning how to run, I was running around the block. This time I was looping the block about 4 times that day. I was moving at a decent pace. I saw Pony Tail Girl ahead of me. She did not know I was coming up behind her. Pony Tail was bobbing a bit, but I could tell she was not as enthusiastic as usual. Legs not lifting as high, slight bend in her shoulders. This was my moment! I tailed her for about a mile. Then with everything I had, I started pouring every ounce of energy into my legs, I leaned forward in my stride and quickened the pace of the leg turn over. I blew past Pony Tail Girl and not only did I pass her with fanfare, I took her soul as well (Goggins reference, if you do not understand then read his book).
This almost killed me, but from that point my running took on new heights and I felt I was ready for some new commitments. I signed up for a half marathon race. It was my first every competitive running event. Well, check that, my first competitive race was a 400 meter track event in high school. I ran in a heat of 8 other kids. I did not finish. At the second lap, I quit. I still remember the coach yelling in my face about being a quitter. I never ran again until 30 years later. Anyway, the half marathon started ok. I was nervous and unprepared. I had no idea what I was doing. However, after the jitters were gone and the race underway, I realized that the herd of people I was running with were not quite in the same shape as I was. I pulled ahead of them and started to have some fun, getting into my groove. Then it happened again. Pony Tail Girl is not always the same person, btw.
This time it was a brunette, same build, except a bit older perhaps. She blew past me about mile 7. My reaction!? Oh, no. I am NOT going out like that! I started matching her pace. I did everything I could to keep up with her, and was successful. My normal pace was about 9 minutes a mile, she was clocking probably 8:15. Pretty slow, but for us amateurs, fast. We got on a hill in some orange groves. I could see where we were heading, a check station at the top of this long field. I started gaining on Pony Tail Girl. I was going to catch her for sure. I was closing in on her, feeling really confident about my sudden break neck pace and I was just about to pass her when she suddenly stopped and took a detour toward a porta-potty. She had no idea that she was being hunted down by this giant old dude gasping and panting for breath trying to match her pace. BTW, she passed me again much later in the race, but by this time I was just trying to finish and did not care.
I even encountered Pony Tail Girl in Phoenix, AZ once. I was traveling for a conference when I decided to go run this desert trail that seems to be popular in the local running community. It was a fun run, a little technical with the rocks and all that but I was proud of myself as I passed most of the runners on the trail. Hills have become my thing. I am really good at keeping pace up them, and that is where I usually pass people. However, as I was cruising up a hill, it happened. Pony Tail Girl. Yup, this time she was in nothing but a bathing suit and a pair of Hoka Speedgoats. Yes, she tailed me for a while and then on a slight turn, said in a very condescending way, excuse me as she slipped past me with blazing speed. I thought I could try to keep up, or even get my revenge, however, that turned out to be a silly thought. There went the pony tail, swishing back and forth, then I could only take small consolation in admiring her backside for a few minutes and then she was gone. I would never see her on the trail again. When I got back to the trail head, there she was. Sun bathing on a rock, looking at relaxed and refreshed as ever. A pack of male runners were gathered around her gawking as if an alien from outer space had just landed. Clearly she was playing with everyone. She as probably a local track star from ASU or something, who knows. Anyway, my fight with Pony Tail Girl was not over.
Six months later, I was in my first marathon in San Diego. I was finally going to run a marathon! My goal was to complete the marathon in 4 hours. I had a training plan for that purpose and I was excited. The run went great to start. I finished the first half and matched my personal best for a half marathon. Then I got into the second half and things were great. I was actually on pace to finish in 3:30. This would have been amazing. However, things started to go south a bit. My legs got tired, my arms hurt, I started to feel sluggish. We were heading up friars road to the 163 and that is long slow ascent. The 3:45 pacer caught up to me and the group he was with. I held with them up to the 163 and they started to pull ahead. Then I was on the 163 freeway heading up a giant hill toward downtown. This completely sucked, however, I did not stop. I kept pushing. with a few miles to go, the 4:00 pacer caught up to me. I was so tired, and everything hurt but I just had to stay in front of this pacer. So I pulled everything out of reserve and started to limp my way into the downtown area. This is precisely when it happened again. That is right, Pony Tail Girl.
This time she was in bright yellow spandex and she was a good 30 stones more in size than me. You got to give it to this this girl. She was pushing a considerable amount of weight for 26 miles and doing so at a 4:00 hour pace. Pretty incredible, actually. However, I was not admiring her at all. Her pony tail swishing back and forth and she ran past me. There was no way in hell, I was going to let this girl beat me to the finish line. For the next 2 miles, we were in a deadlock battle. She knew it, and I knew it. We were gunning for each other. Thanks to her, we finished the marathon just ahead of the 4:00 pace. I accomplished my goal! However, Pony Tail Girl beat me by about a stride.
Yesterday, early in the morning before the sun rose, I was out on the streets running. Just coming back from home after completing most of my run, I saw the Original Pony Tail girl coming toward me. You see for the last several weeks there were a lot of new runners out and about. However, as the quarantine has continued, slowly the new runners have fallen off. Now all that is left is the original crew. As we came closer to each other and about ready to pass. There was a slight acknowledgement. We both nodded in each others direction, a passing sign of respect. Fellow warriors making it work every morning. We gave each other a glance that said many things. Yes, despite it all we are still here. We are still running, still making it happen. I am no longer the obese walrus trying to gasp my last dying breath, I am now a decent runner with a healthy stride. She is the same ol’ Pony Tail Girl.
So now when I run, instead of trying to compete with Pony Tail Girl, I have decided to embrace that spirit. When I am running, I imagine my own pony tail bobbing and weaving. I imagine my own sleek, proud, elegant stride as I take enjoyment from the activity. I am comfortable with who I am, and accept that I will occasionally be beaten by and sometimes pass a Pony Tail Girl. I am good with that, I am at peace.
That is until shirtless bandanna man past me, but that is a whole other story!