Let me tell you about one of the hardest physical things I’ve done in the past few years.
A time when I ran my slowest ever, but one I was most proud of.
A time I looked, and felt, like absolute death afterward…
In the first few years of coaching, I was young & fit, so I ran with the athletes. Then I got older and injured…a lot. My fitness faded.
Every year with the college team, we’d run a 2-man 4×800 relay. Your ‘rest’ between the two 800s was your partner running. It was a quick, but exhausting workout. A way to sharpen up. It was a tradition. We had a draft before, hyped it up, & even had a makeshift trophy.
Before the 2019 edition, I was finally healthy again but way out of shape and just jogging around. Two days before, one athlete got sick & had to pull out. We were down a man. And no one to replace him with. I felt bad, and for a moment wondered if I could fill in.
So I went out and ran one 400 in 64. It felt horrible. My legs were lead… but I wasn’t broken. Naturally, I decided to run.
I knew I was going to get my ass handed to me. My ego wasn’t happy. My inner dialogue for the next 2 days: “stop being an idiot and drop out.” Race day comes. I’m 1st and 3rd leg. I told my teammate that I was going to hand off in last place. My plan was to run 2:12-14 for the 1st leg. I told him not to panic. Just get us back to the pack. I told him if I was in it, I’d keep him close enough to have a shot.
My teammate, Devin Vallejo, was fast. He’d go on to run about a 4:03 mile equivalent. I was not fast anymore. He was going up against a lot of fast guys. That year, we had two teams each with guys who’d run between 1:49-1:51ish in the open 800 to compete against.
The race starts, and I go straight to the back. I’m trailing by 10+ meters after the first 400m. It was embarrassing. My ego & instincts told me to surge, to compete. I held back. I was patient. Younger me would have been brash. I handed off in last place.
My split was 2:11. For his leg, Devin runs fast, splitting 2:02. He gets us back close to the pack. I took off, with guys who would run 1:49 & 1:51 in front of me. I told myself to be patient. To let the studs go. Compete when it matters. Not now. I tried to measure out exactly what I had. The goal was to maximize MY effort, not others. I came through the 400 in 64. I made some headway, I was in the race But I thought I was going to die
At 500m, I almost gave up. Everything hurt. Nothing seemed like it would work. I shook out my arms to relax. I broke the race down. Convinced myself to make it to 600m. At 600m, I got passed. The competitive instincts from a decade ago flashed before me. I leaned into that. I was dying. But I was calm. Executing my race. Not panicking or forcing. Calm amidst chaos I kicked past one of the athletes. I handed off in 3rd.
I split 2:08 for the 2nd 800.
20-something-year-old Steve would have been embarrassed.
Mid 30’s Steve was thrilled & exhausted
Devin went on to split 2:00 for his final leg, taking us from 3rd to 1st. Eeking out a victory. He did most of the work. I was just a role player trying to survive. I did…barely… Afterward, I looked like death:
So what? The only way I got through it:
- Embracing the reality of where I was at
- Not forcing it
- Practicing having a calm conversation with fatigue
- Quieting my ego
- Having fun
Years ago I read the story of coach Percy Cerutty running an all-out 1,500m before his pupil Herb Elliott went on to win Gold at the Olympics. Cerutty told Herb “You may run faster than me, but you will never run harder!”
That story stuck with me. It’s about the effort. Showing that no matter what shape you are in or your age, we can always give everything we have.
Secondly, it sends a message, I’m on this journey with you. I’m willing to grind, sacrifice, and put in the work. I understand what you guys are going through and it is not easy
We often avoid situations where we won’t measure up. Where we know we’ll get our butt kicked. But it’s often those situations that are the ‘hard things.’ Your ego is exposed. You have to face the reality that you are not that good, out of shape, or older than your mind imagines
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