Friday, September 01, 2006

Death Through Habitual Living 

My senior year of high school cross country was a major disappointment. I trained poorly for the season, and lost track of my priorities. I remember there being a few races in which I was nervous to race -- and not just the regular set of nerves. I was aware that I didn't have enough miles, so I worried about that third mile of the race. This put kind of a shrill tone to the year.

My co-captain and I tried to do everything by the book. We scripted each race the night before we ran it. We saw completely eye-to-eye on how to run the team. It just wasn't enough.

On one Friday before a meet, I decided we would do a trail run across the bluff of Lake Michigan, from Big Bay park to Klode, and then back to school by the streets. There used to be a little-known trail that could take people all the way; it's since become overgrown and lost. So we ran our run, and it was the typical Friday run. Everyone enjoyed that particular route. It was short, but scenic and challenging.

We finished the run, and after asking us where we went, our coached chewed us out for it. The trail had some dangerous footing, and he didn't like the idea of losing runners to broken ankles the day before the meet. He was right about this point; I'll never deny him that. But I pushed back at his objection, just because the team needed a fun run at the time -- a run that didn't feel like work. Just "right-foot-left-foot" for the pure enjoyment of it. To me the benefit of reinvigorating the team's spirit with a good run outweighed the potential danger.

My co-captain -- as good a guy as you'll ever run across -- eventually shut me up. I had no desire to go at it with my coach, who I would have gladly run for for another 10 years. I just wanted my point made. But my co-captain cut it all off before tempers could flair. As we walked down the stairs to the locker room, he said to me, "I know what you wanted. Don't worry about coach. You were in the right place."

That's really all I could have asked for. It's a lonely sport when you get to the third mile and everyone is separated. There are very few winners in cross country, but it wasn't the failure that got to me. If I was going to fail, I wanted it on my terms, the right way -- and I wanted people to understand why.

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