When I left the room to get another whiskey soda, my friends were having a perfectly amicable conversation. When I returned, the two of them were arguing over the semantics of the phrase “Fuck you.”
As I waited for the dust to settle, I leaned, resting my head on the back of the couch and taking note of the two framed paintings on the ceiling. How many times had I been in that room? How many occasions had we celebrated in that corner of that bar? Had I noticed the paintings before? I couldn’t recall.
The argument turned to its apology phase, the f-bomber apologizing for his use of the phrase, and the visitor apologizing for his defensiveness. Finally able to get a word in edgewise, I apologized as well for putting the latter on edge to begin with. He’d been on edge all week, feeling as though we had all grown accusatory since his last visit, just weeks earlier. That we were telling him to change.
“You’re always changing,” I explained. “Change isn’t a bad thing. And we’re not saying you need to be a fundamentally different person, only that you should always try to be a better version of yourself. You’re not happy right now, so why not do something different? Why not try to find a way to be better?”
Different friend, same crisis. It’s been a rough couple of months.
Three months ago, I ran my first 10k, at a pace I’ve been unable to replicate under any circumstances, before or since. When it happened, my time felt like a minor miracle, more than two minutes ahead of my most optimistic goal, but every gym trip since has been an increasing source of frustration. My legs and lungs have proven capable once, why can’t they repeat their performance?
Friday, at the gym, a series of increasingly futile moments. One of the trio of TVs was on commercial as I began my run, but less than two minutes in, it returned to the Grey’s Anatomy marathon someone else had previously selected, much to my chagrin.
Years ago, I dated a woman who always complained that I was never attracted to anyone who looked like her, to which my rhetorical response was always, “Who the fuck looks like you?” In our time together, I never once spotted anyone in person who bore a significant resemblance, and yet, her doppelgänger (minus a few tattoos and an eyebrow scar) appeared on TV every week, as a doctor in a fictional version of our real city. Friday, she reappeared in front of me, just as I hit my stride.
Minutes later, a warning from my Bluetooth headphones, spoken over the podcast I was listening to: Battery low. Minutes later, the headphones turned themselves off, the rechargeable battery apparently on death’s door. Suddenly, I was faced with no distractions from the run. More than five miles to go, with an ex in front of me and my usual podcast companions replaced by the grunts of lifters and the squeaks of my treadmill.
So, I pushed, hard as I could, trying to end the run sooner not for the sake of a new best, but simply to escape that much quicker. Every second counted. Every step put me that much closer to escaping this little torture. And yet, as hard as I pushed, it still wasn’t enough. My pace fell in line with my last several months’ work, 8:43/mile over six. At the start of this year, I wouldn’t have dreamed of such a thing. Friday, it felt like a miniature nightmare.
I went for another run this afternoon, pushing my usual Monday workout forward a day so I can make a friend’s barbeque tomorrow. The gym was nearly empty, and I set the TV in front of me to the middle innings of the Mariners game, a decision that proved fortuitous when my headphones confirmed my suspicions by dying prematurely once more.
While the Mariners started slow, I didn’t for once, pushing at full speed from the start instead of easing my way through my first mile as I usually do. Soon enough, the Mariners’ bats heated up, distracting me from the pain in my feet and the burning in my lungs.
Five years ago, I ran my first 5k, completing it in 35:08, an 11:19/mile pace. By the end of that year, I was nearly thirty pounds lighter than when I started that year, the best shape of my adult life. By the following summer, practically all those gains were gone.
Today, for the first time, I managed to beat that pace I set three months ago, running six miles in 49:53, an 8:19/mile pace. Today, I proved in the best shape of my life, a hair better than yesterday, which was just a little better than the day before.
As I told my friend the other night, it’s not about changing. Trying to do better doesn’t mean you’ve been doing something wrong.