Giving back

homestead girls xc 2015Remember that big trophy case in your high school? You know the one; it houses all the awards from sports and band and club competitions. It’s filled with statuettes and plaques and medals and team photos, and you always stop to look at it when you go back for a visit. Heck, my daughter’s school is big enough that it has a trophy case for each sport.

Except hers.

No matter how hard you look, you won’t find any awards on display for the girls’ cross country team, even though the team has historically been successful. Heck, this year alone they placed ninth at the state finals, piling up wins and places along the way. So where are the trophies? Where are the ribbons? Does the school hold girls’ xc in complete disdain?

Nope.

When I attended Awards Night, I saw all the hardware displayed in its shiny glory. One statuette must have been at least two feet high; it stood on the table like a beacon, luring the girls to come back for another season, another success. And that was only one of the awards. The spread on the table would have wowed anyone.

By the end of the night, it was gone.

That’s because the coaches felt that since the girls had earned them, they should keep them. They’ve made it a tradition to present each senior runner with one of the awards from the season, choosing according to some anecdote that matches each girl with a particular race.

These aren’t just the varsity runners; they’re ALL the senior runners. That includes seniors on JV who may never have earned an individual award in their high school careers. By the end of Awards Night, everyone had something to commemorate her contribution to the team.

That’s pretty selfless of the coaches, if you ask me.

After all, they’d have one impressive trophy case if they accumulated all that hardware in a single location. They could revel in their success every time they walked past. Look what we’ve accomplished! Don’t we produce great teams?! 

Instead, they tuck their successes away in their hearts and memories and give the credit to the girls who showed up every day and worked their tails off. To the girls who ran two and three and four hundred miles over the summer to stay in shape. To the girls who collapsed after crossing the finish line because they had nothing left.

Don’t get me wrong. The coaches worked their tails off, too. They poured hundreds of hours into the season–after teaching all day. They ran and biked alongside the girls. They gave up time with their families. They were the first ones there and the last ones to leave every practice and meet. They praised and prodded and encouraged, even when they were mentally exhausted. They earned those trophies, too.

That’s why giving those trophies to the girls means so much. The coaches taught the girls how to stretch, how to eat, how to race, how to persevere, but the most important thing they taught them was how to give back.

We gain so much more from giving credit than from taking it.

Thanks, Coach W and Coach B.

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Kicking the tires

flat tireMy kids and I pack a lot into our days. With work, school, practices, rehearsals, committees, and social lives tugging us in different directions, we sometimes have to get creative in order to spend time with each other. That’s how I came up with the idea of having my kids tag along on my runs–on their bikes.

A few years ago on one of spring’s earliest days, I laced up my running shoes to take advantage of the warm air and colorful blossoms. I invited my daughter to come with me so that we could steal a few moments together. She said yes, grabbed her bike, and off we went.

Before we proceed, you have to understand that my dazzling princess is somewhat averse to physical exertion, or at least she was at the time. Previous runs through the neighborhood with her on foot had resulted in my frantic assessment of potential onlookers to see if anyone might be calling Child Protective Services as my daughter screamed things like, “Stop hurting me!” “Why are you doing this to me?” “Why won’t you let me stop?!” and “You’re a MEAN WHALE!” Keep in mind that these exclamations generally came about five minutes into any activity after she remembered what she might be missing on TV.

Back to the story.

A block into our run/ride, dear daughter started complaining. It was too hard. It made her legs hurt. Could we please go home? Shaking my head, I pressed on, shouting over my shoulder, You have wheels! I only have feet. Keep up! After another block of ever-increasing complaints, the grousing stopped. Relieved, I looked back to see whether my daughter had caught up with me.

Rather than being hot on my tail, she was a block behind me, feet firmly planted on the sidewalk, wheels stationary. She refused to budge.

As I retraced my steps wondering how to cajole her into continuing, a tiny thought weaseled its way into my brain. I don’t think she has had her bike out since last fall. I wonder if she needs air in her tires…

I arrived at her fortified position and squeezed the rubber. Sure enough, her tires were flat. Not just low on air, but completely flat. No wonder she was complaining; she was riding on the rims! Every revolution of her pedals took extreme effort for her little legs. Oops. Bad mom moment. Her complaints were valid this time.

That incident is never far from my mind, and I’ve become extra-vigilant about checking tires before bike rides. As I’ve chuckled sheepishly over the memory, I’ve also realized there was a greater lesson embedded in it than the effects of winter storage on air pressure: never, ever stop listening.

You see, I know my daughter and her patterns. When a situation seems to fit a pattern, it’s pretty easy to check the box and tune out; it’s all about context, right? Of course, that’s exactly the moment when I risk missing something important.

I’m a huge proponent of understanding context, but paying too much attention to the context can sometimes crowd out the facts. Like tire pressure.

Not my day

mini bibsNo one wants to talk (or write) about a bad race, least of all me. In fact, I’ve been trying hard to put my dismal performance at Saturday’s Indy Mini out of my mind ever since I crossed the finish line. Alas, something in my psyche just won’t let me bury it until I ‘fess up. It plagued me in my dreams, and I woke up this morning turning over opening lines for this post in my head.

So here’s the deal. For the second year in a row, I fell apart. It wasn’t my body that let me down this year. The weather was nearly perfect, I stayed reasonably fueled up along the course, and I was more faithful to this year’s training regimen. No, it wasn’t my body; it was my head.

Somewhere along the course, doubt began to seep through the folds of my gray matter. You still have a long way to go. You don’t really want to be doing this, do you? Why did you come out here? You’re going to need to stop soon. I tried to ignore the voices. I turned up my iPod. I even silently screamed back at them. Shut up! I’ve done this before! I’ve got this! I don’t have that much more to go!

I couldn’t fight the voices. 8.5 miles into the course, I took a break. I geared down to a walk, but I told myself I’d just regroup and then finish strong. I refueled with water and Gatorade, and a half mile later, I took off. Two miles after that, the voices had me walking again. I followed that start-stop routine to the finish, though thankfully I was able to gut out Victory Mile at my usual pace. The thought of walking past the throngs of people waving the runners to the finish line was apparently enough to drown out the jeering in my head.

I finished, but I didn’t accomplish a single one of my goals for the year. I’m embarrassed by my performance. Yeah, I know that a lot of people would have been happy to finish at 2:03, but I know I’m capable of more: I finished my first Mini at 1:44.  This year’s performance clearly wasn’t my best effort, and that’s how we should be grading ourselves, right? It doesn’t matter what someone else does; I have to compare me to me.

This year’s top female finisher ran the course in 1:12. I know I’ll never accomplish that, and I don’t feel bad about it. The last place finisher crossed the finish line in 4:29. In my current physical condition, that won’t be me, either. If, then, first and last don’t matter, then neither does any position in between. That means that the only real measuring stick of my success is whether I performed to the best of my ability.

Now I have to begin the process of figuring out why I didn’t. I have to find the right switch in my brain and flip it from What are you thinking?! to Heck, yes, you can do this! And I will. It may take awhile, but I will.

So here are the lessons I learned THIS year:

  1. Like most things, a huge part of running is mental. My psychological game plan is just as important as my physical one.
  2. I am my own measuring stick.
  3. I shouldn’t have to relearn lessons I learned last year. Even so, I only just now–well after the race–revisited them. (You can, too: Click Redefining success and Victory.)

Nope, Saturday wasn’t my day. But today is still up for grabs, and I’m going to make it mine.

P.S. My son also ran on Saturday, and he had a great race. My momma-pride helps take away some of the sting. Way to go, Jake Davis!

Thunder and birdsong

Cardinal_in_the_RainBooming thunder woke me this morning, punctuated by sharp cracks and the rapid-firing report of driving rain. It seemed a fitting follow-up to the previous day’s explosions at the Boston Marathon.

In the middle of nature’s protest, I heard something else. Sheltered by a canopy of budding leaves, a cardinal sat in the tree outside my bedroom window and sang its song. In a thunderstorm. In the dark. How beautiful and unexpected.

My mind went to an anecdote I had heard the prior evening. Fred Rogers, that equanimous purveyor of patience and good manners from my childhood, once said (verified by snopes.com):

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’

I find that so comforting–and true. Look at any tragedy and you will find people rushing to help. Police officers, firefighters, EMTs, doctors, nurses, and regular Joes (or Janes, if you prefer) move in and make things happen.  As others rush from the scene in justifiable horror, the helpers rush to it. They offer safety, medical attention, and most of all comfort. And they far outnumber the bad guys.

Let’s get this straight. The tragedy in Boston sucks. It’s horrific, terrifying, and inexcusable. It reminds us that evil pulsates throughout the world, and it will rear its head in places where it is least welcome. We must figure out who did it, hold those people accountable, and do our best to protect against it happening again.

But in the aftermath, let’s give the attention to the good. Let’s celebrate the acts of selflessness, the kindness, and the heroism that become equally apparent in these times. Let’s listen for the birdsong in the thunderstorm.

Those are the stories that deserve the spotlight.

Take the t-shirt

tough mudder cardMy brother did it again. In the spirit of Christmas, he found a new way to get under my skin.

The card he left under the Christmas tree looked innocuous enough. The envelope puffed out a bit, prompting me to silently muse about what kind of gift card may have been stashed in the fold. Starbucks? Best Buy? AmEx? His sly grin should have set off alarm bells in my head.

As soon as I unfolded the paper tucked inside the Hallmark sentiment, I knew I’d been had. The card contained an entry in my name to the Tough Mudder.

Now, I’ve been known to do some crazy things. Over the last 17 months, I’ve competed in 4 mud obstacle races, and I recruited my brother to join me for two of them. They were a lot of fun, but that’s exactly what they were designed to be–FUN. 3-ish miles of mud and madness, with a giant party at the end.

The Tough Mudder is different. This is TWELVE miles of serious business: simulated icebergs, underwater tunnels, electric shock. No way, no how. I have no desire to tackle something this nuts. In fact, when my beloved sibling posed the idea to me a couple of months ago, I responded with a resounding NO. Repeatedly.

He signed me up anyway. Merry Christmas, Tammy.

I’ve been grousing about this for two weeks, since opening that card. The other day at work, a colleague looked at me quizzically and said, You don’t have to do it, you know. Just take the t-shirt and go home.

Wait, what? That thought never occurred to me. My brother threw down the gauntlet and, as anyone with a sibling knows, I have no choice but to pick it up and accept the challenge. And beat him, of course.

I’m not completely innocent here. In his eyes, this is payback for my Christmas gift to him the year before: registration for the Indy Mini half marathon. He didn’t just take the t-shirt, and neither will I. I’m going to face this challenge head on, and when I’ve completed it, I’ll be better for having done it. It’s not about the Tough Mudder itself; it’s about setting a goal and following a plan to achieve it. It’s about discipline, perseverance, and pushing my limits. Oh, and a pinch of sibling rivalry.

Watch out, world; here I come. There’s no limit to what I can do when I set my mind to it.

Just wait till he sees what he’s getting next Christmas.

Jitterbug

If you read last Friday’s post, you know that I suffered from my usual case of nerves before the race I ran last weekend. As expected, I stayed jittery all the way till the opening cannon (yes, it really was a cannon–we all JUMPED across the starting line), then I took off and did my thing. It worked out just fine.

As a decent competitor, I’ve won a few age group awards and had hoped to do the same in this race. I faced a tough field, and it just wasn’t to be this time, although I was satisfied with my finish. As I analyzed the results, however, I found myself not only looking at how I had done, but also at who had finished around me. Then I found myself looking at their ages, calculating when I would slide into the next age group and who would stay behind.

I wanted to win, and I was looking at Father Time to help me do it.

Wait, what?

For those of you not familiar with road races, they work like this. Everyone’s time is recorded and logged to determine overall results. Then the data is parsed and participants are categorized by age and gender. Two finishing lists are published: overall and age group. With not a prayer of a contending overall time, I look to the age group results to boost my ego.

When I’m on the early end of my age group, I always do better, relatively speaking. Now that I’m approaching the top end and the “younguns” are infiltrating my pack, my former top threes have become top tens. This is the only time I can’t wait for my birthday so that I can get closer to the next group–and to being a “youngun” myself. Instead of racing the clock, I’m racing the calendar.

I have mixed feelings about this. I want to keep getting better and post faster times. I also want to win, and apparently I’m willing to bank on my age to do it. Will I be jitterbugging for joy when I’m an old lady, further down the overall list than ever, but fastest in my age group simply because I’ve outlasted everyone? What does this say about me?

All I know is that people want to feel good about themselves, and we’re willing to slice and dice the data to do it. Keep that in mind when you’re trying to get someone to buy in to your message. I’ll say it again: people like to feel good about themselves. Help them find a way to do it.

Bundle of nerves

You would think that after running as many races as I have, I wouldn’t get nervous anymore. Not so. I find my heart fluttering days before each new race, and the thought that runs in a loop through my head is, What if I can’t do it?

I’m registered to run another race on Saturday, a 10K this time, and the jitters have already started. Aside from the normal nervous musings, there’s a new factor in the mix: I’ve never raced this distance before. Sure, I’ve done tons of 5Ks, a couple of four-milers, and two half marathons. I’ve at least covered the bookend distances, so this one should be no sweat (rhetorically speaking, of course!). Add to that the fact that I run this distance occasionally on my regular evening jaunts, so I know I can do it without a lot of extra effort. A walk in the park, right?

Somehow I still fret. All the way up to the starting line, the jitters will build. I’ll calm a bit on the course, but until I cross that finish line, I won’t be completely confident that I’ll get it done.

That’s probably not all bad. Those jitters keep me going, pushing me along just ahead of the fear of failure that nips at my heels. The resulting sense of accomplishment I feel when I cross that finish line is that much sweeter.

Guess I’ll hang on to my bundle of nerves for a while longer. It might be worth something.