Friday, September 30, 2011

Refuse to lose


Excerpt from the coming title: Best Season Yet: 12 Weeks to Train

            It was a warm spring day in 1976 when David DeLancey stepped onto the tennis court for the third set of a college match. DeLancey, highly recruited to play soccer for Cedarville College in 1972, was at that time unknown for his tennis skills. Still, as a walk-on, he immediately won the #1 position on the team. Against all odds, he accrued a perfect record of 91 wins and zero loses. But on this particular day in May, it looked like his stellar streak was about to be undone.
           His opponent from Ohio Northern University was proving problematic for DeLancey with heavy topspin on both his forehand and backhand. They split the first two sets. In the third and final set, hope was fading fast when the Cedarville player went down five games to nil. Just four points stood between an upset of gigantic proportions.
David DeLancey (2009)
             DeLancey, silently suffering his senior year from migraines brought on by the pressure of his perfect record, had a plan. There was no time for fear or speculation about losing. No. He had but one objective: make every point count.
              In peak athletic condition, David’s approach was to follow every serve and service return to the net. The undefeated’s play was furious and unrelenting, unraveling the nerves of his opponent. Ruthless net play turned the set score to 5-1. Focusing only on one point at a time, the score cards flipped to 5-2, then 5-3. Soon, as fans and teammates alike looked on, they witnessed the amazing comeback. Without a single deuce game, DeLancey handily won seven games straight to win both the set and match. His record remained unsoiled and set the stage to round out his college career with an unprecedented 101-0 record.
 What was key to his success? Was it his technically correct strokes or his outstanding fitness level? Sure, that was part of it. But his motivation was not to win; it was his commitment to do whatever it took not to lose. That meant shutting out the past and future to focus only on the moment.
It all boils down to what happens in a single instant. The centurion’s servant was healed in a moment. Remember the sick woman who strained to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe? “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment (Matthew 9:23). And the greatest moment of all?  The instant Christ’s death on the cross made our salvation possible.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.  At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Matthew 27: 50, 51b)

Postscript: David DeLancey is the author's oldest brother, whom she both adores and draws inspiration.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My confession

I'm not sure I could have expected more. I had not trained with an ultra in mind. So, it's a good thing I didn't run one. I ran a stink'n ten mile road race instead. Too bad I didn't train for that one either.

So, why did I even run? Well, a bunch of my cross country kids signed up and my assistant coach was probably going to be in the top ten overall out of 1000+ runners. How could I not? "Oh, ten miles is such a short race for you," everyone says. Malarkey.

I needed to adjust my attitude before, during, and now after I ran. I was not looking forward to the effort it would take on that hilly course. I don't really like roads. In fact, I really, really don't like roads-especially when so many people are watching. And, anyone who knows I'm an ultrarunner expects me to be able to pull off the race in grand style. Sure, ten miles is nothing. Nothing, that is, unless you are trying to go fast. Then it's just like getting beat by a wet noodle.

I really did try to run smart. I tried to have a good attitude. I tried to enjoy the moment. I tried to keep my heart from exploding through my chest wall. I tried to take in the crowd and the bands that lined the city streets. I tried all this with varying levels of success. It wasn't always horrible. Sometimes it was worse.

I also tried to catch the woman in front of me in my age group. I won the grand master title last year and along with it, a new pair of shoes. I was running in those shoes and needed a new pair. A repeat win would be nice. But silly me watched her stay about 150 yards in front of me. I lost hope in catching her. I felt like a big fluffy wus-ball for not trying harder.

I suppose my time wasn't terrible. I was still in the top 20% of all runners. But I have to admit that I'm not satisfied. I'm disappointed in my bad attitude. I forgot all about the joy of running. I forgot that any run is good compared to not being able to run.

Perhaps next year I'll give some thought to train specifically and run with purpose. I need redemption.

Monday, September 19, 2011

When things go wrong

It was a great day for racing. With 35 teams from all over the state, the competition was tough. We knew that going in. But we also knew that Trey Fisher was running hot. He had bagged two impressive wins in a row and we couldn't help but work toward another. Trey was primed and ready to enter the fray.

And he did. Starting off toward the back of the top 20, he had some work to do. When the first major hill loomed ahead, he systematically worked his way through the crowd, joining the compact front group of three by the time he topped out. Carefully guarding his line on the tight corners, Trey ran wisely across the flat and surged on the downhill. Soon, he overtook the duo in front and carried the lead through the middle mile. My own heart pounded with excitement as I raced between vantage points on the course to view his form floating across the ground, wind in his hair.

But the second and third runners were not content to trail behind. The battle ensued as they overtook my harrier in the last mile. Still, relentlessly pursuing, every muscle fiber contracted as he fought to close the gap. Down the hill he flew, gravel crunching under his feet. A tight right turn around a tree, limbs brushed aside in the process. He speeds along a fence row. Now a turn to the left. A final 90-degree corner is all that stands between the last 100 meters of turf to the finish line. Running full out, Trey had an impressive 3rd place finish in hand. Or so we thought. . .

I looked up just in time to see my runner turn and head back toward the oncoming runners. I was confused. What happened? A gap in the bright orange tape marking the tight turn fooled Trey into taking an inside line. Facing disqualification, he had no choice but to turn about and proceed on the outside of the flag. The merciless clock continued to tick. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. A runner from behind now inherited Trey's earned spot. Frantically, valiantly, he fought to overtake those in front. He could not. His finish position was 5th.

I patted him on the back, briefly blabbed the standard things that coaches say, and gave him some time to process what had just happened. He had to be disappointed, perhaps even angry. I watched as he continued through the narrow, twisting finish shoot. Smiling, he extended congratulations to those in front. Then he worked his way through the crowd, standing aside with a few family and friends. He made no excuses. He did not stomp or scowl. He did not whine. He did not complain. He simply shook his head and shoulder shrugged before heading off to collect his thoughts and a few cool-down miles.

Arriving back at the school hours later, Trey approached. "Coach, I have something to ask you. Did I handle myself okay today? I didn't want to ruin my testimony."

The answer was easy. "Yes, Trey. You handled yourself just fine."

Well done, Trey. Well done. Your heavenly audience loudly applauds.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Timeout

A couple of my runners are learning some important life lessons. Lessons about expectation, disappointment, and injury.

Stephen, a freshman new to the school, had been running strong enough to claim a top seven varsity spot. Knee pain he could no longer bear led him to a doctor and his order to cease and desist for three weeks. His training came to a screeching halt.

Morgan, another new freshman, came full of promise. She, too, ran her way onto the varsity squad. But an awkward gait precipitated by some strange anatomy and muscle imbalances has handed her a decree of no running for six weeks.

I feel their pain. I've been there. In the first five years of ultrarunning, I suffered nine metatarsal fractures, medial malleolus and femoral neck fractures, a torn tibial aponeuroses, surgery on both feet and an ankle including seven incisions and eight screws, along with multiple soft tissue injuries. Like a tadpole, into the pool I went, deep water running sometimes for three hours at a time to maintain fitness. After a period of time, I emerged with fresh legs to train like a madman, only to break something else. Back I went into the cold, deep pond of despair. It was an endless, maddening cycle. I wanted so much to be fit, racing fast and strong. But it was not to be. . .at least for a period.

Unfortunately, though we do our best to be smart and avoid injury, sometimes it just becomes our lot. It's frustrating. It's painful in so many ways; physically, emotionally, and sometimes even spiritually. Being a wounded warrior makes us feel less of an athlete, less of a contributor on the team. Sometimes, we even feel that we lose all connection with the team. But despite how we feel, it won't last forever.

It's hard sitting on the sideline watching others train and compete. There are feelings of loneliness and inadequacies. Disappointment. Betrayal by our own bodies. Healing time moves at a slower rate than the hands on a clock face. The wait is excruciating.

But--and this is the tough part--sometimes we need to wait. We wait not in a vacuum but in the healing atmosphere of expectant hope. We put things in perspective. We learn to be content. We understand to make the most of our down time so we are best prepared when we are again off and running. Patience takes on new meaning as we wait. And waiting means that we slow down enough to clearly see needs of others not realized when racing along at full speed.

Sure, a timeout is seldom pleasant or welcomed. But, neither is it the end of the world. Hang on, kiddos. This too shall pass.

Monday, September 12, 2011

How do I know when I'm finished?

"Coach, coach," he gushed excitedly. It was his first race ever and he had a bazillion questions. Standing near our team's starting box just moments away from the gun, this gangly youngster was a jumbled up mixture of nervous energy and raw enthusiasm. "Coach...Uh, what number am I and how do I know when I'm finished?"

Really? Did I just hear that right? I tried not to laugh but the corners of my mouth betrayed me. Surely, there must be some hidden meaning behind the questions that I just didn't get. But, since I am not a 6th grade boy and have no earthly idea how their minds work, I decided to answer it in the only way I knew.

"Well, your number is pinned to your shirt so don't worry about that." Then, pointing to the fifteen foot tall inflatable finish arch across the way, I continued. "Just keep running until you get to that thing. Look up. It says 'Finish' in big, white letters. When you pass under it, that's when you know when you can stop."

I guess my answer was okay. He sprinted at the flash of the gun, followed the crowded field of runners, dashed down the final straightaway lined with cheering fans, and passed under that big, black and bodacious finish banner. He had figured it out.

Photo by Regan Brooks
I have to admit, I've enjoyed some light-hearted moments thinking about this exchange. But his pondering about finishing may not be as simple as it seems. Sure, a finish arch or tape stretched across a piece of real estate may signal the end of an event. But I find few things in life so clear.

The "end" is seldom really the end. For example, while a final exam marks the end of a course, it also signals the beginning of the next step toward a degree. And though a diploma ends the quest for the degree, it acts as the flash of the starter's pistol marking the start of an adult's life.

I find myself constantly searching for a finish line, gasping for breath and wanting it all to stop. Life gets so hectic, so chaotic, so filled with "gotta do this and gotta do thats." If only the finish line were closer, more attainable, more definable. If only I didn't feel so utterly spent when I got there, exhausted and depleted. I sometimes decry the journey to that allusive line, sweating, hurting, and suffering along the way. I get introspective and miserable, my head hangs low. Woe is me.

I must be a slow learner. I've been in this state before. I know all the wisdom about persevering, relentless forward motion, and "it doesn't always get worse" philosophies. But I still forget along the way. I forget to look up at the next finish line and step across it when I arrive. I forget that the finish line brings with it a chance to catch your breath and replenish. I forget that the pain of the race diminishes as soon as the final step is taken. I forget that the race, the struggle, really tells me that I am alive and well despite how I feel in the moment. I forget that I run for a "Well done" from my Coach.


But back to his race. Just before this kid got to that line, he stopped and looked up. "Run through it, keep going. You aren't finished yet," cried my assistant coach. With a huge smile plastered on his innocent face, my runner plunged ahead as his finish time was recorded. He found the first of many finishes.



Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. (Matthew 25:23)



Monday, September 5, 2011

First XC Meet of the Season

Coaching can be serious business
It started off well. It ended well. Whew.

The first meet of the year can be scary. Though I carry a full contingent of about four dozen kids, many are new to the sport as well as the team. The grade level ranges from 6th  to seniors, adding the extra challenge of keeping workouts and expectations appropriate for the age and talent of each runner. Some of the runners are veterans, focused in their roles as outstanding students and athletes. Others. . .well, there appears to be a social aspect and sense of team that draws them in. And, that's okay.

The Eagle Invitational, held Sept 3 in the hills outside the hamlet of Rocky Mount, Virgina, is a small, yet challenging meet. Hosted by Franklin County High School, which boasts a roster of nearly 65 kids, this school never fails to draw top runners to the line. This year was no different.

Middle Schoolers take to the line
The middle schoolers were sent out on their 3K run. I had but 3 girls and 3 guys in this event held on a holiday weekend. However, despite the novelty of racing for all but one runner, the youth ran with Janaye Wagner, Emma Nash, and Emily Hill taking the 3rd, 6th, and 7th positions, respectively. Andre Deneault, Greyson Wooldridge and Reese Brooks faired well with running into 4th, 5th, and 8th place.

Abby Quigg and Rebecca Roberts

Of course, the strength of a team resides in the depth of the roster. The JV and varsity girls demonstrated the point. Though Franklin County raced a girl who would have taken 5th place in the guys race, the LCA girls offered an unbeatable combination. Abby Quigg, Rebecca and Caroline Roberts, Jamie Maule, and Cassidy Williams swept places 2-6th to grab the title at this quad invite. Though the Roberts sisters and Ms. Williams are in their first season, they added the necessary depth to the squad.

Trey Fisher en route to victory
The men's race was equally impressive. LCA runner, Trey Fisher, is a talented runner with keen intensity. After struggling over the years with over-use injuries, he has been training strong and risen to new levels. Biding his time in the early mile, Trey began to pull away by the second mile, a rigorous climb leading to nearly a mile of single track through the forest. By the time he hit the last half mile, his lead was unquestioned. He posted a 17:40 on a very tough 5K course and claimed the crown. His teammates, new comers William Miller (a track sprint specialist), Ike Podell, and Stephen Hardy took 5th, 9th, and 15th position. Veteran runner and co-captian, senior Regan Brooks took the 14th spot. Together, the men claimed second  place as a team.

The fun after the run
Looks like the new kids are the added links to the chain that will anchor the team.

Stay tuned for more race reports of the Liberty Christian Academy Cross Country team. It's sure to be a memorable season.