Some lessons you have to learn the hard way -- and even then they don't always stick.
Back when I lived in Washington DC, I was going through a long and confusing breakup with a woman I had been seeing for several years. Part of what made it confusing was her notion that we should remain friends after we broke up. This made no sense to me, and I mistook her attempts at friendship as possible signs of getting back together.
One such misunderstanding occurred when she invited me to run with her in a ten-mile road-race she'd entered. Actually, she'd planned on running with a "friend," but when her "friend" dropped out at the last minute, I was invited to take her "friend's" place, since they'd already paid the registration fee.
Of course I jumped at the chance. It was a golden opportunity to spend some quality time with her and show off one of my better qualities. I'd been running since high school and considered myself a better than average road-racer. And ten miles was just about my favorite distance. Or at least, it had been at one time. In fact I hadn't been running a lot of distance lately. Maybe a few miles now and again in the park. But, I'd logged a lot of miles in my day and I figured I could go the distance.
She, on the other hand, had been putting in a lot of mileage. While we were dating, I don't think I ever saw her run more than a few steps at a time. But apparently, without the distraction of having me around any more, she had become an avid distance runner. And she had been training specifically for this event.
Me, not so much.
The race was held on a perfect fall day -- nice and cool. The course covered a fairly flat section of Rock Creek Park, pretty much five miles out and five back. Piece of cake. I met her at the start. She seemed pleased to see me. I was psyched to see her and ready to show her how, now that she was a runner too, we had even more in common than before. We would run together, encourage each other, endure hardship and pain, sweat and struggle together. And in the end, we would form a stronger bond than ever.
It was a foolproof plan.
For the first few miles, it seemed to be working. We ran along together, chatting, getting into a groove, settling into a rhythm. She was in pretty good shape, too. She started out a little faster than I expected. I had thought we might begin at a nice leisurely jog, and that she would probably need to rely on my years of road-racing experience to help set a proper pace. However, after a few miles, she seemed to be the one setting the pace and I was pretty much just trying to stay with her.
At the halfway point, she started to pull away from me. I reluctantly told her to go ahead, I just needed to get my second wind. I would be fine. So, off she went -- on her own, moving ahead until she was almost out of sight. And then, finally, she was gone.
The next five miles were grueling. I was dying. But I couldn't stop. I had to keep going. Maybe she would slow down and I would catch up to her. At the very least I had to make a good showing at the finish line.
I began to face the fact that I was in no shape for a ten mile race. I wasn't even running anymore -- I was just punishing myself. I could tell I was doing major damage to my knees, but I just couldn't give in.
I still had my pride.
I actually did catch up with her at the end. But by that time I could barely stand. I clumsily tried to lean on her for support, but she pulled away uncomfortably. I was in serious pain, hobbling through the chute to the check-in table. By now I had given up on impressing her and was just going for sympathy. But I wasn't getting any. She seemed put off by my suffering. After we picked up our race t-shirts, she pretty much ditched me.
For the next few weeks, every step I took felt like someone was jamming a jagged knife right through my kneecap. Every agonizing jolt was an excruciating reminder of exactly how stupid I can be. It was months before I could walk without pain. I couldn't run for almost a year. For a while I thought I might never run again.
But, eventually, I recovered and lived to run again. Lesson learned.
Or was it?
Last weekend the company I work for had its annual summer beach party, known officially as "Fuck Off Day." They reserve a spot on the beach in Malibu and we all take the day off and hang out. Some folks just sit and enjoy the sun. Some play volleyball. And some fools go swimming in the ocean.
Not that swimming in the ocean is foolish. But this particular spot happens to have a really gnarly beach break. I found that out last year when I tried to do a little body-surfing and got badly trounced by a real butt-stomper of a wave. I was dashed against the sand like a rag doll and pummeled like a little punk.
This year, I promised myself I wouldn't be so reckless. I would respect the surf. Of course I still planned on going swimming, I just wasn't going to tempt Poseidon by being overly bold or incautious.
As luck would have it, when I got to the beach I ran into a lovely young woman who said she needed a swim buddy. And not just any lovely young woman -- this woman also happens to be a producer on the show I am about to start working on. Essentially she's my new boss. A quick dip in the ocean offered the perfect opportunity to bond with her and show her how youthful and vigorous I am. See, TV is a young person's game and I don't want to be seen as an old codger. Especially by my new boss. Especially by my hot, young new boss.
So off we ran into the surf. Oh, did I mention, it was freakin' cold. How cold? The kind of cold that when it hits you, it sucks every ounce of energy right out of your body. But she didn't seem to mind it at all. She swam out beyond the breakers and I followed. I was now literally in way over my head. She mentioned that she lives near the beach and goes swimming in the ocean every morning before work.
Now you tell me.
After bobbing and frolicking in the water for what seemed like a frozen eternity, she started heading to shore. Thank God. But then she decided to try and catch some waves. They were pretty good size, and like last year, they were breaking way too close to shore. She dropped into one and I watched her go under as it came down hard. I scanned the churning water and waited for her to pop up again. Fortunately she did, cheerful as ever. I was relieved.
Only then did I realize that I was right in the path of another big wave, poised to take me down. I quickly dove into the curl to try and swim through it, but I was too late. The wave slammed down right on top of me and folded me in half -- sending me tumbling ass over teakettle. I hit the bottom hard and got pounded and dragged along, practically losing my trunks in the process. Somehow I managed to hold on. I fought to right myself and pull up my trunks before the wave cleared, so that when I emerged I would appear unscathed and chipper. I finally struggled to my feet, still yanking on my trunks.
"I didn't know where you were!" she exclaimed.
That makes two of us.
Unbelievably, she still hadn't had enough, and managed to catch one more wave into shore. I stumbled after her, battered by another wave -- barely able to get back on my feet before she saw me. Thankfully, mercifully, we headed back up the beach.
Nevertheless, I felt pretty good about the whole adventure. Nothing broken. No humiliating accidents. Nobody drowned. I think I did manage to bond with my new boss and appear somewhat spry. All in all it was a success.
I toweled off and headed over to the lunch buffet the company had set up for us. I sat down at a table with a couple nearer to my own age. I told them about my little adventure in the water and they just laughed. I guess it did sound pretty ridiculous. Once again I was witlessly lured into trying to prove myself to someone who probably couldn't care less. And was soundly thrashed for my stupidity.
Maybe next time I'll be wiser.