Tuesday, September 30, 2014
COACHING & LEARNING
As many of you know, I am a girls high school cross country coach. And, whether you were aware of this or not, you should know that I truly love my job. Not only because I love working with young girls to help them achieve their goals. But also, because while I am doing whatever I can to guide them in running and in life, I am learning so much from them every day. It's a win-win for me. Last Monday, one of my runners, I'll call her Susie (I don't think she reads RWM, but if she did, she'd get a kick out of this name), walked up to me with a serious look on her face. She's not the fastest runner on the team, but she comes and pushes herself every day. She had not been happy about her last couple races so I knew she wanted to talk strategy. She said something to the effect of:
"Coach, I'm freaking out here. I don't know how to approach this race tomorrow. I was so disappointed last week. (okay, she might have said 'pissed off'). I just hate how I am always struggling at the end and miserable. And I hate coming in last every time."
Oh Lordy, I thought to myself. I can totally relate with this one; on, many, many levels. It's not often that this particular girls opens up and gets honest with me, so I wanted her to know that I was taking the moment very seriously. I took her by the shoulders and looked her directly in the eye. This is what I told her (or at least the gist of it):
"First of all, the WORST thing you can do is compare yourself to others. You have to want to run for YOU and only you. It's not how you stack up against the other team or your best friend on the squad. It's getting to the line and wanting to be better than you were last week. And the only way to do this is to change your mental outlook. You can't go to the line doubting your ability. You will be out of the race before it's even begun. You have to step up, get in the zone, and prove to yourself, no one else, that you have it in you to run a good race, and more importantly, to have fun."
I believe she may have rolled her eyes at me here and said something like:
I try to get fired up, coach, but it always feels like within 2 minutes of the start I am getting passed by everyone else in the race and it sucks. By the time I get to the hills, I want to give up. And then everything falls apart after that.
Quick note here...our home course is a beast. Shortly after the first 800, the hills begin and there are many of them and they are big. It's really, really hard. For a runner of any level.
Susie, I said, every time I start a marathon, and I've run 9, I hold back in the beginning so I have some reserves at the end. For the first half, and sometimes more, of the race, I am getting passed left and right. It's like I'm a slow car driving in the fast lane and everyone is wondering what the hell I am doing. But then, for the last 8 miles or so, I tap into that last little bit of energy that I (hopefully) still have from taking it easy at the start. When I do this, I tend to cross the line feeling strong and satisfied. I don't come in first, mind you. But, I don't race to be first. I race to improve and have a good time. If I'm not doing that, than something is wrong.
She was quiet at this point and really focused. I could tell something was sinking in. Or maybe she was just thinking about a song that would get her pumped up for her race (she's a big music fan). Honestly, it didn't really matter. All that mattered was that she wanted things to be different. And better. So I continued.
The hills on our course are tough. You know they are hard for you. When you take off, you have to put your blinders on and not worry about what everyone else is doing as you tackle them. If that means you're the last runner for a little while, fine. You can't stress about it. You know and I know that if you hold back a little at the start you'll be able to finish strong and feeling good. More importantly, you have to build up some serious positive energy ahead of time so that when that doubt starts to seep in, which it does for all of us, you can tell it to, excuse my french, "f-off".
She nodded. So run my own pace? Yeah, I can do that.
Yeah, you can, I said. But you also have to believe that you have it in you, which I know you do, but you tend to forget. And then you have to let your body take you there. I don't care what place you come in tomorrow. All I want is for you to cross the line thinking, hell yeah, that was freakin' awesome. As your coach, I can only do so much to help get you there. You have to do the rest. Come on. I know you. You're a badass. You got this.
She smiled. Okay. You're right. I got this. Thanks coach.
She walked back to her buddies with a little skip in her step and her shoulders just a bit higher. I smiled, too. No, I thought to myself, thank you.
Listen to this:
Bad Habit - The Kooks