My senior year in high school our basketball coach convinced me to run cross country. He said it would build my stamina and endurance. He wanted everyone to be in the best shape possible for the new fast paced running game he was implemented for the up-coming basketball season. I reluctantly took his suggestion and ran cross country.
I will never forget my first day of practice. We started out by running a warm up of one mile. I was okay with that until the coach said we were running to the cross country course. The course was a mile away from the school.
After we got to the course, I asked the coach what was next. He said we were going to run the three mile cross country course then run back to the school and finish with a mile cool down. I got exhausted listening to him tell us our running schedule.
I must admit, I did not run all seven miles. I had to walk some. It was a good thing I had been some conditioning or I would have passed out.
I asked the coach why we were running so much. He said because we were preparing for a meet in two weeks. The next two weeks we ran at least six miles four days a week in preparation for the meet.
The day of the meet I was extremely nervous. There were over a hundred competing runners from several different schools. There were guys I was competing against who had several years of training and competition under their belt. I thought, ‘How would I fair against these guys’ since I had only been running a few weeks.
Before the race, my adrenaline was pumping. I could not stand still. I was ready to run. I had worked extremely hard for this moment. I wanted to finish well.
When the horn went off, I took off with great exuberance. I was running hard. I felt good.
I was running what I thought was an excellent race until reality hit me in the face. As I jumped over some branches, ducked under a few tree limbs and ran through a small stream, I was winded. Sweat was pouring down my face like I was standing under a waterfall. My legs were wobbly.
I looked around at the runners I was running with and they looked fresh and unfazed. I thought if I am going to keep up with them then I had to tighten up. I kept moving, but it seemed the more I pushed the more exhausted I became.
After jumping a ditch and running through another stream, I asked the runner next to me how close we were to finishing. He looked at me with a grin on his face and said we have not gotten to the one mile marker. When he said that, I almost cried. We still have a little over two miles to go. I wanted to quit right then, but I had worked too hard to give up.
How was I going to finish the race? In my excitement to finish well, I took off running with the seasoned runners. I felt good in the beginning because I was running stride for stride with the big dogs. But, the truth set in, I was about to burn myself out before reaching the mile marker.
I thought about what our top runner said to me two weeks earlier. He said, ‘you could be a good cross country runner, but you have to learn to pace yourself’. He said you cannot get to the top level in two weeks. You have to keep preparing and keep working to develop your endurance and pace.
What he said rang clear in mind. I knew if I kept running at this pace I would not finish. I slowed down, relaxed, refocused my energy and begun to run at the pace that would allow me to finish strong.
I finished. But, I did not finish with the seasoned runners. They kept their pace and finished over a mile ahead of me. I readjusted my pace, caught my second wind and finished the race in thirty-fifth place out of over one hundred runners. I was thrilled to finish in thirty-fifth place in my first cross country race.
That was a great accomplishment. By preparing and pacing myself I accomplished something bigger than what I thought I could do. Not only did I compete well in the cross country meets, I was in the best shape of my life for basketball.
I share that story from my past because it illustrated what can happen if you prepare today for tomorrow and pace yourself to what you can handle to finish your race.
When I talk about preparing and pacing yourself, I do not mean that you bog yourself down reading hundreds of expert advice. You don’t have to keep asking everyone you know their opinions. You can stop researching for more information to find the perfect formula. Take what you have prepared, set your pace and go to work.
Most people miss their opportunity because they fail to prepare in the off season. Others burned themselves out because they try to make things happen quick, fast and in a hurry instead of setting a pace that is right for them to finish strong.
If you are struggling with preparation and pace step back and reevaluate where you are and what it will take to get you to your finish line.
You may have to go by yourself. You may have to separate yourself from some people. You may have to go in a different direction. Whatever you have to do to get to your finish line, do it. As I discovered running cross country, if you make the proper preparations and pace yourself then you will position yourself for success.
“Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.” Jerry Rice