Three indoor track and field meets, five days of competition within nine calendar days. Wow. Enough to make any track addict giddy with the latest fix. Officiating all five days gave me a trackside seat for each race, jump and throw. I witnessed middle school kids, junior high, high school, collegiate, post collegiate and masters compete for the prize. The prize? Not so much the hardware attached to the ribbon hanging around their neck but an opportunity to go toe to toe with the beast.
If you have had endured the rigors of training for competition and then stepped up to compete maybe you have met this imaginary but very real competitor. Just about the time you think you have given it your all, the beast delivers a variety of tactics each with a single objective; to get you to accept failure. In high school we gave the beast a title; “the bear”. This bear usually hung out on the final turn. This bear was very skilled at knowing when to time his jump from his perch found in the highest pine trees adorning the north end of our track stadium. This bear would grab your arms and legs and make you want to crawl. Elation gave way to relief as you crossed the finish line. Not fun. Many of us still sport claw marks received from a suicidal pace too early in a race.
But the physical pain is really nothing compared to the mental spears hurled at your head. Physical pain gives way to the mental and emotional pain written upon each message delivered in hopes of sending you home with your head hung low. “You can’t do this. Give up. It is not worth it. You are no good. Accept defeat. Why try? Look at everyone else – they are so much better than you”. Take your pick. Believe any one of them and you begin to embrace mediocrity as acceptable.
Officiating these five days of competition I witnessed many athletes beat the beast at his game. Maybe it was the look on the middle school boy’s face (little guy from Tacoma, Washington) as he sprinted the last 50 meters of his 200 m race on a big time banked track. Maybe it was the focused attention of the post collegiate athlete as he sprinted down the runway, pole in hand, clearing a US Olympic Trials pole vault qualifying mark. Maybe it was the painful grimace of the high school senior as he stepped across the finish line in first place and a record setting sub 1:50 800 meters. Maybe it was the masters’ runner whose face etched with time knew exactly what the beast was going to say because she had heard it before and as a great competitor was prepared to win that battle. Maybe it was a middle of the pack miler who upon finishing her race raised her hand in elation knowing she had just given it her all and set a new personal record.
This is what makes track and field so special. We each can win. Win at beating this beast and attaining the prize. Only you know when you have won. Time knows no boundaries with attacks from the beast. No event is immune. Each race, each hard workout - all are fair game. Never accept his messages. Faster, farther, higher. Win the prize.
Until next time – enjoy the run!