Ah, the joys of coaching track & field.

I have been reminded by others, and just so you don’t worry, I have even felt it myself, yes, I have been somewhat negligent in my posting of blogs.  In my defense, I sort of warned you.  This is just flat out a busy time of year.

One of those things that keep me particularly busy is coaching a local high school track team.   Specifically, I coach the 400m, 800m, 1500m, and 3000m boys and girls.  As with anything in life, there is an upside, and a downside.  There are humorous times, joyful times, ‘tug at your heart times” and all of them are reasons that I keep finding myself back on the track each spring.  Bottom line, I love it.  Let me share with you an experience from the “upside”.

For the sake of all involved, I am going to take the liberty to change names, dates, times, genders, etc, but to share the truth and the heart of the story.

Awhile back, we were at a fairly large invitational with some 14 teams competing.  Our boys 4 x 400 relay team had a good chance to place in the top 3.  If you haven’t been to a track meet, the 4 x 400 relay is typically the last event of the day.  Each runner runs 1 lap (400m).  And it is somewhat customary for the rest of the teammates to line the track to cheer on their team.  I have to tell you, when you fill the track with 8 good teams that are just flat out going after it, well, it can really get your heart pumping.

At this particular meet, one of our runners injured himself in an earlier event and was out for the day.  Fortunately, as we always do, we had put the name down of one of our athletes as an alternate.  Unfortunately, he’d never run a 400 meter race before.  He’d run 100’s, a few 200’s, threw the javelin and was a 100m hurdler, but now, we were asking him to try something he’d never attempted before, and in a big time meet.

If you’ve coached enough years, you start to see a pattern in athlete’s reactions when you ask them to do something they’ve never tried.  And you first see it in their eyes.  A,  you either see sheer terror or B, you see  “ok, I can do this, just tell me what to do.”   In the eyes of this young man, all I saw was “Great….let’s go do this”.

“So, look”, I started, “The temptation is that when you get the baton, and there are some runners ahead of you, you just try crazy hard to catch them, DON’T.  Run the first 100 hard, try and relax the next 100 to 150,  know that with about 150 to go, your legs are going to start to feel like telephone poles, that’s normal, don’t be afraid of it,  just start to use those big arms of yours, relax the legs, and be as smooth as you can till the finish line”  His response was as if I had asked him to jog to the store for a gallon of milk…”Ok coach, got it”.  Ignorance is at times is truly bliss.

He was our second leg and got the baton in third place.  Ran the 1st hundred just liked we told him to.  Didn’t try to catch them, but did gain some, but just short of 100 meters to go, you could just see the energy from him drain completely from his body.  There was nothing left in those big legs of his.  They were no doubt filled with lactic acid, and tight as a drum.  It’s a time when most athletes panic, try harder, and only make it worse.  But he didn’t panic, he started pulling with those big arms of his, pulled himself  past one more runner, and handed the baton to the third leg in 2nd place.  Our team went on to place 2nd, a huge day for them all.

About 20 minutes later, we were on the back field where our athletes were cooling down.  I went up to our newest 400m runner to congratulate him on such a great job.  As I reached him, he pulled me away from the others, and whispered….”Coach, I can’t feel my ass”.

Just so you don’t miss this point,  this is one of the moments that keep coming back to coach, for the wonderful innocence in the voice of a gifted athlete.   It’s all I can do to keep a straight face.  But with a voice of wisdom, I share”It’s ok, that’s a sign that you gave it all you had, you didn’t panic, you were fantastic”.    He pauses…“Thanks coach, but….really, will I ever feel my ass again?”

I liked this guy before, I love this guy now.  With all the voice of compassion I can muster, I assured him that within the next 30 minutes, he would surly being to feel his ass again.  And sure enough, he did.

Hope to share more with you, but right now, back to coaching.

Be good, and for heaven’s sake, have fun…..Fred

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