“I haven’t seen you smile after a race in a long time. Savor the moment. Enjoy the fact that your hard work this winter is paying off. All those runs on those cold, windy days…it’s all worth it.”
“I am so happy right now!”
This happy runner is Andrei, one of my cross country and track athletes. He had a breakthrough race in the mile at an indoor meet one week ago. Following the race, he was all smiles.
Andrei had a disappointing track season back in spring 2012, due to some injuries and lack of winter training. He has been determined to have a better track season this year. He took 2 weeks of down time at the conclusion of the cross country season in November and has been diligent with his training ever since.
In late December, Andrei began the competitive indoor track season with a 5:06 mile, which is the pace he usually opened with in a cross country 5k race. He and I knew that he could do much better. Following that race, he ramped up his mileage, and we started doing some speed work. 1 month later: he ran a personal best time of 4:47.
Andrei is very competitive and hard on himself. I don’t usually worry about his getting in the work; I only worry about his being too hard on himself, to the point that it could suck the joy right out of the sport.
Andrei sometimes reminds me of how I was at his age. I love running, but when I ran in high school, I used to get so nervous that I would practically make myself sick before meets. Having a hall-of-fame coach for a father, and renowned Kevin Hanson as my coach, I would get too worked up and put too much pressure on myself on meet day. I wanted to impress them. My father and Kevin never put the pressure on me; I did it to myself. Looking back, I wish I handled the pressures of competition better. I wish I appreciated running and celebrated my accomplishments more. As an adult, I have approached my racing with a completely different attitude than I did when I was in high school. I have more fun with it. I celebrate. I even think while I’m racing about how lucky I am to be doing it. Not everyone can do what runners do, and there’s nothing like the rush you get from a race and a personal best.
When Andrei ran 19 seconds better from his previous race to get a personal best in the mile, I reminded him to savor the moment and take time to feel proud of himself. Smile! If not, the daily grind of training can wear you down. When you work hard for something, you have to consciously take the time to acknowledge the fruits of your labor. I can’t explain how wonderful it was to see him smile when he realized he ran a p.r. That expression on an athlete’s face when they accomplish something great is why I coach.
Why is that moment so fleeting? Why can’t we simply be satisfied with a good race?
Later that evening, Andrei texted me with questions, wondering if I thought he could drop 10 more seconds this winter to qualify for the Michigan indoor state meet. So, his celebration lasted a few hours, tops, and he was already plotting his next big p.r. Once he had a big breakthrough, his perception changed. He was hungry to do more.
At first, I was a little concerned with Andrei’s lack of celebration, but I had to be honest with myself about how I am now with my own running. I ran a 2 minute personal best in the Detroit Free Press half marathon this past fall. I ran much faster than I had anticipated at a 1:51. I almost cried at the finish line because I was so happy with my time. But what did I do when I got home? Within the first hour of returning home after my race, I signed up online for my next half marathon in March. Based on my race performance, I knew that I could break 1:50 in my next race. As ridiculous as it was, I needed to immediately sign up for my next race to commit to my new running goal, just as Andrei needed to rethink his racing goals.
We runners are an interesting breed. Those that don’t run might interpret us as being crazy. I’m alright with that.
Justin, one of my other runners, said the following in his 2012 cross country post-season interview:
“It (running) has given me a reason to wake up every day, a reason, that I know I am working the hardest I can for something, and that I should be proud of what I’m doing.”
Yes, we may be crazy runners that are always looking ahead to the next p.r. Goal-setting and anticipating the next big breakthrough is what keeps us going. It’s like oxygen for some of us. Just make sure to take the time to be proud of what you do, no matter how big or small the accomplishment. Take the time to savor the moment of greatness when it happens. Make sure that you never lose the joy of distance running.