Are you on track? Off track? Ready to get Back On Track?
Much of who and what I am today, I owe to my college Track & Field program. My teammates and I poured everything into the accomplishment of specific and lofty goals. We gave athletics a lot. It gave a lot more back.
I loved those days of butt slapping camaraderie that only those who have laughed and worked and suffered hard together can appreciate. After marrying and beginning my family and my professional speaking career, I didn’t think I really missed the sport all that much. However, one life-changing day, while reading John L. Parker Jr’s powerful novel, Return to Carthage, I realized there was something I did miss – and I missed it a lot.
When you are a competitive runner, you are constantly on a quest for excellence. You are absolutely focused on being better today than you were yesterday and better still tomorrow. Tiny improvements represent huge victories. You are an organism constantly evolving into a preconceived approximation of perfection. This isn’t just an ideal. This is a runner’s job! This quest for excellence is something real runners live.
When we were young competitive runners, we strove to be the strongest, the fastest – the best we could be. To achieve our personal best required more than hard work. It required a focused will. As Parker says, “It takes effort, determination, conviction. But mostly, it takes will. It takes a conscious decision to follow one difficult uphill path, and then the will to stay with it and not waiver, not to give up.”
Parker is right. Running was more than a sport. Our habit of constant improvement, our quest for excellence set the pace for our young lives. When we ran well, we tended to excel in every other area; academic, social, spiritual.
Then what happened? We got older. Did we continue to strive for excellence, or did we feel we had arrived – good enough at whatever we are good at? Did we lose that drive; that determined quest for excellence? I had. And I wanted that feeling back.
Don’t get me wrong. Life was good – is good. I am blessed with an amazing family; a wonderful speaking and writing profession. It is fun, fulfilling, to enthuse a pack of young people, educate some really smart educators, go toe-to-toe with a room full of calloused coal miners. I have been blessed and blessed and blessed…
But I felt somehow stagnated. I missed that directed focus, that drive, that quest for excellence. It occurred to me that I had gotten “good enough.” That didn’t feel so good — not after reading John Parker’s book.
What did feel good though, again after reading his book, was that I could reclaim the quest. Even at forty-five years of age (that’s one hundred sixty in dog years). I could try once again to achieve… well, whatever standard of athletic excellence a forty five year old might achieve.
I could be a runner again. Thank you John Parker
So, I got back on track – literally. What could I do at age 44? A five-minute mile is a lofty goal.. After some months of preparation, I ran 4:43.
At 45 years old I ran 4:32
I called my old, retired, (USATF Hall of Fame) college coach, Chick Hislop, to see what he thought of that.
“How old are you, Brad?”
I told him.
“Gads!” he exclaimed; then, after a long pause, simply said, “I believe we both ought to come out of retirement. Are you ready for another adventure?”
Thus, the quest began anew. Fit. Inspired. Determined. And perhaps a little nutz!
To date, my coach and I have claimed three US Masters Championships; two World Masters Championships; set four US Masters records; broke one world record and shattered two more.
[I also broke my foot three times in the process, mangled my ankle, shattered my big toe, ripped my groin, tore my quadriceps twice and suffered two separate training mishaps resulting in concussion. Victory does not come without a price!]
How about you? Are you still on track?
I’m raising a family – seven kids at home and a couple more out there in the world – still advancing my speaking and executive coaching career – still doing some good in the world – and now again get to know that marvelous feeling, that focused, determined, quest for excellence and the sure knowledge that good enough — is not.
What is your quest for excellence? Do you agree with Coach Hislop? Is it time for you to come out of “retirement” and get Back On Track?