Just under two years ago, I wrote a detailed two part race recap after my 4th marathon with Team in Training in San Diego (see part 1 here if you're interested). The main point of the entire recap, which I reiterated several times throughout both parts was: "it's not about me." As I sat through our chapter's pre-race meeting, I listened to coach Nadine, who's father had lost his long battle with blood cancer not even two weeks before the race, I realized it wasn't about me. As a mentor cheering a couple thousand race participants to their inspiration dinner, I realized it wasn't about me. As I decorated my "rockstar" fundraiser race shirt, I realized that it wasn't about me. And then in the race itself, as the tough, "bite me" miles presented themselves, I remembered that it wasn't about me and plowed through. Finally, as I crossed the finish line clocking a 10 minute PR, I rejoiced because it wasn't about me.
But this past weekend, the Whidbey Island Half and Full Marathon was even less about me than that seemingly long ago weekend in San Diego. Because this past weekend, I wasn't a mentor or a captain or even a participant anymore. This weekend, I was a coach. And I had one job: help everyone else get themselves across that finish line in any way I could. The miles I put on my legs on Sunday weren't my miles. They were miles for all my teammates out there running the race. They were miles for all the survivors we run in honor of or those no longer with us we run in memory of.
So instead of a traditional recap, I've decided that I'm just going to tell you about what I saw as I was out on that race course for 5+ hours. Here's what I saw:
Strength. Of all kinds. Those who raced on Sunday chose to not only run a half or full marathon, but to run one of the hilliest marathons I've seen. I saw the physical strength acquired throughout a 6 month long training season filled with more hills than I'd care to count. I saw strong legs and strong bodies. I also saw strong hearts and strong minds and strong souls. Because it takes way more than just strong legs to make it through a marathon.
Determination. As I worked the marathon course from about miles 23 to the finish, I saw more determination than I've ever seen in a day. By the final hours of the marathon, the temperature was hot and the sun was out, which made the hills seem higher. But the determination I saw to conquer those hills and cross the finish line was unstoppable.
Perseverance. Perseverance is my favorite world lately. Whether I'm talking to my first graders or the athletes I coach, perseverance is one of those qualities that will get you a hell of a lot further than you ever thought in life. Perseverance is the amazing ability to keep going when the going is tough. To keep trying even when it seems like trying will get you nowhere. It is the ability to stick with it and not give up, even when everything else is telling you to stop. On Sunday, I saw perseverance in the eyes of each and every person I ran with.
Grit. Grit is becoming a new buzz word in the education world lately. Education researchers have lately decided that it is the biggest predictor of success and the most important personality trait present in self-motivated learners. One thing that people have kind of failed to do when it comes to this new buzz word is define it. No one can quite figure what grit is or exactly how one goes about acquiring it. Here's what I have to say to all those researchers and writers of education lingo: go watch a marathon. A marathon will show you the definition of true grit. From what I can tell, grit is the perfect combination of determination and perseverance. Kind of like Captain Planet. Individually, determination and perseverance are great. But with their powers combined...you become a marathoner.
Kindness. Writing this just after the 1 year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, I feel that I need to mention this one. On marathon day, you see an endless river of kindness, which reminds you that people are inherently good. You see kindness that is exuded by race volunteers and organizers, families and friends, random spectators, and racers both on and off the course. Kindness in the form of an enthusiastic cheer, an outstretched hand holding a water cup, and an embrace on the other side of the finish line. Kindness in the form of a high five, a kick in the butt to keep you going, and a ride back to the hotel when you're done. Kindness in the form of a smile. There are so many smiles on race day. They stretch for 26.2 miles and beyond.
After the race, and throughout my first season as a coach for TNT, I kept getting the same question: "Do you like coaching?" Of course my answer to this is, predictably, yes. But Sunday solidified exactly why I like coaching so much. I realized that being a coach is like being able to cross the finish line over and over and over again. Even though I never crossed the finish line on Sunday, with every participant from our Team that I got to watch cross the finish line, I felt just a little bit like I was too. Because their success was my success. Because each person I got the honor to coach rubbed a little of their strength, determination, perseverance, grit, and kindness off on me.
As me and my fellow coaches followed the last participant to the finish on Sunday, I felt what I always feel when I race is over. I felt happy and sad and so full of emotion that it tried to spill out of my eyes. But as a coach, all these feelings seem magnified because I knew, as I stopped my watch to signal the end of the day, that none of this was about me. I simply had the honor of being a part of it and the pleasure of sharing in the triumph. And after a day like that, you can't help but smile.
Congrats to everyone who crossed that finish line in Whidbey Island this weekend. You are truly amazing.