Oprah, Ellen, Harriet, Lisa E., Lisa H. and I are sitting around a table in the conference room chatting nervously. We are about to make a huge decision, and Oprah has insisted we hold a group vote—fair and square. We are stalling.
In front of each of us is a secret ballot. We all have identical pens. To avoid undue pressure, we will remain cloaked in anonymity. Oprah has agreed to fill out a ballot for her best friend, Gayle. (That vote will be a resounding nay; Gayle has made no bones about it.)
The issue at hand is whether our workout group of seven women (a.k.a. the Spa Girls) will continue to train for the America's Finest City Half Marathon in San Diego, which we found out we were running while watching our boss and head Spa Girl, Oprah, on The Rosie O'Donnell Show. In the midst of their banter (I swear it was like slow motion), we heard Oprah say the following to Rosie: "I work out every day with the Spa Girls, and we are going to run a half marathon." Just like that, in front of millions! To this very day, she doesn't think it was her idea, but nobody else in our little workout club made that claim on national television. This is what that one conversation has meant for us.
In the beginning
During the past year, we Spa Girls have literally dragged ourselves out of bed six days a week at 5 a.m. to work out or run.
We probably would have been quite content dillydallying around, resting on our laurels, but the big race has changed all that. We now work from an 18-week training calendar prepared by our friend and Oprah's former personal trainer, Bob Greene.
Two months in—and tired of it
For the past two months, we have followed the plan pretty religiously, pushing our bleary-eyed selves and one another, and we are just plain sick of it. Our resolve is wobbly. One nagging question hovers over our workouts like a storm cloud. Can we do this? More important, do we even want to run this race anymore?
Thus, the dreaded vote. Around the table, our faces register neutrality. Harriet, our Spa Girl secretary, slowly opens each ballot. I tally the results. Yes. Yes. No. No. Yes. No. (Deep breath.) Yes. Four to three. There it is. Four votes: Yes, let's do it. Three votes: No, are we nuts? Not a landslide for the we-can-do-it coalition, but each Spa Girl has agreed to abide by the final count. Majority rules. We will continue to train.
Two weeks later, on a long-run day, we are standing outside Oprah's Chicago apartment building in a downpour. Gayle has flown in and looks at the sky incredulously. We have not a visor among the seven of us, much less any sort of real runner's rain gear. I think I hear thunder. Calmer heads prevail as we pack into our cars and drive over to the East Bank Club and its indoor running track. Okay, eight miles—48 laps—around and around. It is mental torture. From miles three to eight, my mind is screaming for me to stop; I hear other groans and know that I am not alone. I think this could very well be the hardest thing I've ever done. We end the session aching, delirious and utterly spent. I am wondering if 13 miles is possible. I keep my thoughts to myself.
Outside Oprah's building again the following Sunday: It feels as if we were just here. But today is beautiful and breezy. The Chicago lakefront is particularly dazzling. The sun sparkles on the water. We are cheerier; we are hopeful. Our eight-mile run is difficult but not impossible. That is the training roller coaster. One week, it's not as bad as you think; the next week, agony. Progress is not a straight line. There is an ebb and flow. I know that. I also know that in two weeks, when we move up to nine miles on our long runs, this bit of wisdom will be quickly forgotten. I'll be freaked.
On the up side, each one of us has forged her own unique progress, and there have been good results galore.
The power of the group keeps us going
Seven very different women have become a circle of friends. It's hard not to. We start our days together, and with just a glance, we know who was up with a sick baby the night before, who is heading down the slippery slope to a pizza binge, who had a date with a new guy, who needs a hug. We laugh like crazy. It's a new kind of back fence: We aren't hanging out laundry; we are becoming a team.
I continue to observe the subtle and not-so-subtle changes in my workout friends, and I know this is so much bigger than what it started out to be. Lose weight? Ha! How about really living your best life. I am fascinated as I watch the power of this group unfold. And my dream gets bigger all the time. If we had a vote today, I would be dead in the water, but I am determined to get the Spa Girls to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa for what is basically one of the most challenging hikes in the world. (The five-day trip to the 19,300-foot summit doesn't require rock-climbing expertise.) Talk about a big fat yes! to life.
I've come to realize there is something special about our quest. At the end of 13.1 miles, I imagine a tears-of-joy kind of triumph, with us having done what we once thought we could not do. And that feeling can carry a Spa Girl a long, long way.
Will all seven of us cross the finish line together? I honestly can't say. But, by the narrowest of margins, we have agreed to try.
Sheri Salata works as the senior supervising promotions producer at Harpo Productions.