How to find a marathon coach among jocks? Why aren’t runners treated according to their clothes? How to go from «one of the first» to «at least not the last»? And is it really worth dying for the second last place?
After I’ve made my decision to become an Ironman and bought my first pair of sneakers, I began running. On a treadmill. Let me tell you it’s the worst. Shaking in a hot, deoxygenated room, staring at a TV-set and changing the load with a remote – what can be more boring?
But I hadn’t had a coach then, so there was no one who would teach me how to run. In 2012 only professional olympians and a bunch of gym teachers were running in Moldova, who pursued the goal to have a healthy heart and vessels. Some of them didn’t want to teach me, the others didn’t even know how to run.
Well,I was seeking for a real coach, who will help me run a marathon. I kept bending managers’ ears, but the only coach they could recommend to me was a sprinter who haven’t ever run more than 1,5 km. Talking about running, one manager suddenly remembered a guy from gym who sort of ran some long distances.
Among the other jocks, this guy looked totally different: skinny, thin legs, with no biceps or chest, he looked very strange while showing some fat guy how to do a barbell squat.
– Liviu, – he introduced himself. – Winner of Moldova 1,5 km Сhampionship.
“Well, a little better…” – I thought to myself. – But can you teach me how to run a marathon?
– Well, I’ve only run a half marathon in my life… I can do it!
After two weeks Liviu left the gym and we began to prepare for marathons.
That’s how began the friendship and workouts with Liviu Croitoru, the man who taught me how to run and with whom I ran thousands of kilometers, shoulder to shoulder, with whom we’ve participated in the terrible OtillO, the tough Malaga and many other races, who began working for Sporter and teaching morons like me how to run and don’t break their legs.
And… one thing lead to another, we began running in parks, on streets, in stadiums. First achievements and disappointments. Two months later I already considered myself a pro runner, who knows everything about sneakers, sport food, GPS-watches, workout plans, road pavement and special marathon techniques of tying shoelaces. I’ve already started looking down on my not-running friends, patting them on the shoulder like a father.
– It’s alright, one day you’ll be able to run 10 km, too…
And today Liviu cheered me up, telling that soon I will have my first competition:
– Every year in September the power structures of Moldova do some “dick-measuring”, to prove whose guys are the hottest. Two circles around Valea Morilor lake, only 5 km, enough for you to handle it. It’s time for you to feel the taste of a race. But look, don’t fail me (Liviu worked as a carabiner, everyone there knew him). Don’t come last. After all, I’m you coach and don’t want to turn red because of you.
– You gotta be kidding me – I smirked, – maybe I won’t be the first, but I will be in the middle.
So did the day of my first race come – September 28, 2012. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was absolutely calm and 100% ready. Now, after 50 competitions, I can say that I will never have this arrogant, hundred-percent self-confidence anymore.
Before the start I was wandering around in my fancy Asics, Adidas running sportswear and GPS watches.
I’ve got some weird looks from the soldiers, who were wearing kirza boots, wife-beater shirts and three-striped sweatpants. You could say who’s a runner and who’s not only by looking at me. I’ve done some fancy stretching exercises and went to align at the start.
And there it is – the gunshot! Let’s run! And, of course, I dashed ahead to the front lines with the leaders. I didn’t understand the consequences then, so I was proud of myself.
My happiness lasted 3 minutes, and after that my heartbeat jumped to 180 b/min, I ran out of air, and my field of view narrowed to the width of the runner who was running in front. And their asses are tight, legs long, and running pace, as it turns out, really fast.
After five minutes my plan changed from “one of the first” to “middle is good, too”. My pulse was instantly growing, and my speed kept falling just like my optimism. After the first circle the plan changed to “at least not the last”. But after a couple more minutes it seemed unachievable, as I realised I was the last, and even the most feeble soldier moved away from me, slowly but steadily. I felt sad.
You know, it’s hard to think when your pulse is up to 190. Maybe Liviu figured that out, and suddenly ran up to me.
– Get yourself together, we’re gonna outrun that one, – sounded optimistically in my right ear.
– I c-caa…n’t ru…un f-fastee…er. I’m gon…na di…e.
– Calm down. It’s hard for him, too. I know that guy, he’s gonna give up soon.
There was no relief, because I understood I’ve already given up and the only thing I want is to fall into a ditch and die. But my coach, damn it, is running near me, expecting some miracle to happen and save his reputation. So I decide not to fall down and struggle till the end. I see nothing but dark, my chest is tearing into pieces, heartbeat jumped over 195, I grunt instead of breathing, but I keep running. Step by step, meter by meter.
And suddenly I see that the soldier is actually coming closer. Seems like things get messy for him, too. It gives me forces, and I even try to accelerate.
1,5 km left before the finish, 50 meters separate me from the second last place, I don’t hear Liviu anymore – he’s yelling something into my ear, my pulse jumps to 200! I will never ever have my pulse this high anymore, but I didn’t know it then.
All I can see is the figure of a carabiner, slowly approaching me, and I must overrun him. No matter what. But the finish live is approaching even faster. 20 meters… 10…
My animal instincts turned on, I’ve started feeling myself like a lion who has to catch a roe deer. And finally, 100 meters before the finish line, I overrun that poor man and place myself on the second last place!
Finish line! I’m not the last!
I run 10 more meters and fall on the grass. My body’s shaking, my heart is about to jump off my chest, my mouth’s as dry as a desert… Water… Coach…
Liviu acts like this agonizing body that’s lying in the bushes has nothing to do with him. I try to show him that I really need some water. He sighs, grabs a bottle and “accidentally” drops it near me. I drink greedily, while he congratulates the winners, acting like nothing of this actually happened.
After 15 minutes I crawl out from the bushes, stand up on my trembling legs and limp towards Liviu. He looks around, makes sure no one is watching, and shakes my hand:
– Well done, Sergheich, you’ve got some sporting spirit, and that’s what matters!
– Can I take a break for a week?
– Yeap, but your workout’s tomorrow 🙂
My first competition turned to be the shortest and the toughest in my entire sports career, but it revealed the real world of sports to me – with overcomings, suffering, struggle (sometimes even for the second last place), and the joy of victory. Victories over yourself, over your “I can’t”, “I don’t want to” and “I better die”.