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A long time ago (it at least seems like a galaxy far far away) I was in the military. While I was in the military I ended up (being voluntold, if you must know) on a 10-mile race team. This was quite a jolt to my system in many ways- but one that stood out was introduced to me through the surprising medium of shoes.

The first day of practice I was told to run 10 miles as fast as I could. I did. It was not very fast. I was the last male to finish and I am pretty sure I may have set a record for slowest 10-mile the team had ever seen. I’m not exactly sure what it was (although I’m pretty sure it was around an hour and thirty minutes) but I am sure that I learned how far behind everyone else I was on day one.

On day two I was completely fried from the previous day’s time trial and was told to run an easy 4 miles. I took off with my new teammates and very quickly felt that I was racing just to not get left behind. Now at no time did the coach tell me to keep up with my other teammates but somehow (perhaps just being young or in the army) I did not really take the message of “easy” four miles to heart. So I did my best to run what turned out to be 4 6min 30sec miles with the rest of the team.

On day three I was told to run 7 miles at a tempo pace. At the time I had absolutely no idea what that meant- all I knew was that I was exhausted and that only three days in I felt like I would soon have my body dashed upon the rocks. I was fairly confident that after this third run they would be taking my body off to a morgue. I was running close to the farthest I had ever run and was running at speeds that (at the time) were close to the fastest I had ever run. I was not off to a good start.

When I came across the line after my seven miles on that third day (somehow still in visual range of the next person on the team) my new coach looked me up and down.

“How long have you had those shoes?” he asked.

“I don’t know, sir” I said still heaving from my effort.

“You need new shoes,” he stated flatly. I was still breathing too hard to even respond to him. He continued to stare at me and then said, “Meet me at five.”

“Yes sir.” was all I could say. I had the whole day to dread whatever was going to happen next. Although I wasn’t really sure what exactly that was.

I met him at 5pm. He was apparently driving. I really could not escape it would seem. I was not even really sure what I was getting into and was mostly expecting to be berated for being so much slower than the rest of the team. He did no such thing. Instead, he drove me to the nearest specialty store and helped me pick out running shoes (no tricks to be had as it turned out). I talked to the salesperson in the store and my coach mostly stayed silent in the background. The salesperson measured my foot and asked me more questions than I had been asked about running ever before in my life. My coach only stepped in to make sure I got a half size bigger than I had been wearing (which, as I recall, the salesperson was already pushing for).

When we were done I went home with not one but two pairs of fancy new running shoes. That was saying something too because either one would have been the most expensive pair of shoes I had ever purchased myself ever- and they were in a bigger size than I had ever gotten before too. I was skeptical on so many levels. I felt like I was being coerced. I felt like I was in over my head. I didn’t understand much of anything that was going on. It was very jarring.

I went to my next practice with one of my new pairs of shoes and my coach pulled me aside. He told me to run only 4 miles again and he told me to run by myself. In fact, he sent me off immediately and told me not to pay attention to anyone else on the team. He had my time. He was keeping track. I was just to go run an easy four miles. I took off in my fancy new shoes that I could have sworn were too big and ran the whole way without seeing a sole from my team. No men. No women. No competition. I didn’t really think about my shoes that day (I was to focused on trying to guess what run “easy” meant) but I felt ok when I got back to the coach. He marked down my time and told me to go eat breakfast. Not a word else was said.

Now on my fifth workout with the team we were to run 15 miles. I showed up with my second pair of brand new shoes (the cushier pair) and I was a bit nervous. I’m pretty sure I had never even run that far in my life. The coach told us all to take it easy and off we went. I was about five miles in to the workout when I realized something- running in these new shoes in this strange size was actually noticeably easier. And this is where I learned a valuable lesson.

You see, this is not a story about running shoes. Sure, they were great and made a serious difference at the time. This story though is about learning to trust. You see, I did not know my new coach and so I was reluctant to trust him. When I was into my long workout though, I realized that the shoes fitting better and being much more appropriate for what I was doing (and of higher quality) was merely a sign of something (much like being told to run slower on my own). That something was that I could trust my running coach. I had thought it was crazy to spend $240 on shoes (over 20 years ago) and I was confused by any instructions that did not end with “keep up” or “don’t fall out.” As it turned out though, my coach could be trusted.

We often need to learn from others which is very hard to do if you do not trust them. In being forced onto a running team I had an unexpected lesson on knowledge and trust. I grew to love that coach and by the end of the first season my 10 mile time had dropped under an hour. I was doing things I did not know my body was capable of and I could not have done it without learning to trust someone else. It’s easy to say and hard to do. I’m really glad (in this instance) I was not given much of a choice. Thanks coach.

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