I completed my first road race on Mother’s Day. It was only one mile, but for me it was, and is, a huge accomplishment.
When I was young, both of my older brothers were into sports and athletics. They both ran cross country. When I was in middle school, and at the very beginning of high school, I wanted nothing more than to run track and cross country. I was always striving to be accepted into the realm of coolness that surrounded my older brothers. Running was my one-way ticket in.
I was never really athletic, though. I was a girl, first off, and so with that came a different set of challenges and rules. I had curves, they didn’t. I had more fat than they did. I had short, fat legs and they were taller and thinner. I had less endurance and stamina, but they could be quick and strong at the same time.
Athletics and fitness for my brothers were ingrained in their existence. I struggled in ballet, I was scared of the ball in t-ball and kickball, and I had merely taken tumbling classes when I was a preteen. I wasn’t even in the same league as them when it came to physical fitness.
But that didn’t stop me. I took to running, and tried to stay the course. I struggled race after race, practice after practice. I was beat down, slow, and embarrassed to call myself a “runner.” I was a turkey trotting, slow poke of a running joke.
I remember always thinking that I was a distance runner. I didn’t have the speed to be a competitive sprinter. I competed in middle school cross country. We ran 2 miles. The 5K was for the big kids in high school.
I was a disaster. I was so slow. I was always dead last. It was horrifying.
But I stuck with it. I really liked my coach. Coach Keller. He coached both of my brothers, too. He was also a history teacher in our high school.
Anyways, one story that Coach Keller used to tell us has somehow managed to leave a lasting impression in my memory. He used to tell us that he would run so hard that he would throw up. After every race. His teammates used to joke around with him about it, and they eventually picked a spot off to the side of every course and called it “Keller’s Corner.” After crossing the finish line, Coach Keller would make his way off to the side, and start heaving.
Keller’s Corner is a disgusting story. And it’s funny. But after all of these years, I finally realized why he told us this story at almost every meet. He wasn’t telling us to give us a laugh, or break the competitive tension on the bus on the way to a race. He told us this story time and again to show us that we had to push ourselves, and challenge ourselves almost to the max, in order to succeed and win our races.
I was no great cross country star. In fact, I quit cross country upon entering high school. It wasn’t me. I wasn’t good, and I didn’t have the conditioning or discipline to want to even try to be good.
Today is a different story. I’ve been through hell and back with my body. I am older and wiser. I am making smart life choices. Staying in shape and being healthy is one of those choices.
Now every time I run, I think of Keller’s Corner. In the throes of my painful, tiring, running existence, I press on. If I haven’t thrown up yet, I haven’t pushed myself hard enough. Pain is temporary. But the satisfaction of knowing that I have pushed forward, challenged myself, and succeeded, will last me a lifetime.
When I set out to write this entry, I was going to essentially sum up my running life for you. I wanted to tell you about my various coaches and a few instances I recall during practices and meets, and how I went from a “rags to riches” story, so to speak.
Somehow I have taken a different path and shared with you the story of Coach Keller and how his random, disgusting story, has led me to continually test my own strength, endurance and stamina. I think I’ll leave this entry how it is now. Tomorrow we can talk about the other stuff.
“Racing teaches us to challenge ourselves. It teaches us to push beyond where we thought we could go. It helps us to find out what we are made of. This is what we do. This is what it’s all about.”
~PattiSue Plumer, U.S. Olympian