October 5, 2013
When You're No Longer the Underdog
Last year, we placed last in our first meet. Yep, and in another meet, we placed 2nd to last. Boys and girls were both at the bottom of every ranking and results lists for many weeks. All the while, I tried to stay strong. I tried to stay positive. I encouraged their every step. They said they sucked, but I talked them out of it. And then I went home to my now hubby and cried, "We suck!" These kids, though, they work. They work, and they work, and they work more. It is so inspiring that when I think about them, I could honestly cry. It was at the County Meet last year, I saw a change. The weather had cooled, and we were no longer at the back of the pack. We started to compete. I had 2 girls in the Top 15. We gained momentum. I tracked their progress on a spreadsheet, something we kept to ourselves because honestly, those first few races were too embarrassing for anyone to see. I contribute so much of where we are to this one piece of paper. Every Monday afternoon, we look over it. Our times, our places, compared to the weeks before. I told Keith I was planning a sneak attack for this season. He laughed. My girls, my sweet, tough, AMAZING girls, somehow pulled out 3rd place in the Section last year. I remember sitting there with all the other teams, and heard them call OUR team name for 3rd, earning a spot to State. I was so shocked. I honestly thought we had zero chance. And I heard one of the girls tell her mom, "See, coach said we could do it, and she was right!" Did I say that? Those white lies? Yes, I did. I lied straight to their little innocent faces, told them they could do ANYTHING they set their mind to. And guess what, they DID. To see where they've come from to where we are now reminds me of Kara Goucher's quote, "Sometimes you have to scratch and claw your way to the top." And no, we are not on top yet, BUT give me a few more years...
Enter this year. We had a rough start. Two guys quit the team (also a long story), and I had two girls get injured. We persevered. We are currently racing with the minimum for team on the guys' side. Those few guys started working even harder. They knew they had a disadvantage, but refused let it affect them. They never complained; meanwhile, I was b*t*ing and moaning to Keith nearly every night. At practice though, stay positive, motivate, keep the spreadsheet alive! Tuesday night everything went wrong. One guy forgot his spikes, and our bus was late. I forgot our team water bottles (Coach of the Year, right?), but thankfully Keith met us at the meet with water and oranges all around. LOVE THIS MAN!
We've been talking about racing for place lately. A lot of the kids are getting to where they don't PR every race. (Sounds crazy, but a lot of my newer runners were PRing each week.) I've been teaching them about RACING people, ways to pass, how to pass, WHEN to pass. I've been teaching them mental tricks (note to self, I need to start using these myself!). And Tues night, the kids ran their guts out, just like they always do. The boys finished their race in a pretty good rainstorm, which I had no raincoat or umbrella, but... The weather was getting bad (TS Karen, thanks); so we all left. The coach hosting said he would email the results the next day. A friend of mine that works at the newspaper sent me a FB link in the middle of the night. It was an article, WE PLACED 2nd!!!!! I couldn't believe it. So so proud. My sweet, hard working guys have never placed as team before. Heck, we've done meets with only 6 teams, and still not placed. Not this time, solid 2nd. My girls also got 2nd, their 2nd time making the podium. And we are no longer the underdogs.
I couldn't wait to tell them. I was so excited that I texted them all at 6 a.m.! Friday when we looked at the sacred spreadsheet, we noticed as team, we've taken roughly 5 minutes off our TEAM AVERAGE. That's huge.
We ran a local 5K this morning, one to benefit the education foundation. We used it as a "fun run" to support and draw some attention to our team. I was personally disappointed with my race, with how I ran, my time, and how I placed (19:33, 2nd female). After the race, the team and I hoola hooped, joked around, and just spent time together. They begged me to take them to Waffle House, which I reluctantly agreed.
Never in a million years would I have dreamed that coaching would be this rewarding. The bond I've built with this team is irreplaceable. Before I took this on, I had a few people warn me that my own life would take a hit. Coaching is a HUGE responsibility. It's a lot of time consuming work. People told me that my relationships would suffer, and my own running would suffer. They said my teaching would suffer. In some ways, they were right. My running isn't what it used to be. Some days, that's infuriating, and some days, I am okay with it. I work hard. I do my own workouts. I always will. Things have been going well in the training department lately. Racing isn't as fast, but I'm not sure I can blame all of that on the coaching. My teaching is definitely more challenging. It's late night grading; it's early mornings at the school. It's Saturday or Sunday afternoons in the classroom. And the thing they were wrong about? Relationships. You know why my relationships haven't suffered? Because I'm happy, and the people in my life are happy with me. "Mr. Keith" as the kids call him, supports us always. He brings our water when the stupid coach forgets. He knows all the kids names and their times. He chitchats with parents at the meets. He encourages me and tells me I'm wrong when I'm down on myself. When things are truly crappy, he hugs me, and tells me to try again tomorrow. It's a partnership. I've found joy in encouraging others. And I've found joy in my team's success. I love the look on their faces when they are pushing pushing at Mile 2.5. Then they turn the corner, see the clock, and know they are about to PR. Or when they gut out a competitor in the last 0.1. These kids share so much of their life with me. I know all my seniors' top college choices. I know which teachers they like (and which ones they don't). I know when they are sick, break up with their boyfriend/girlfriend, or when their parents ground them. I know their grades, their shoe sizes, and I can pick them out of a crowd of runners 1/2 a mile away.
Those bonds and this team is so much more than my own missed PRs. And I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
Run Happy and GO BEARS!