I used to be a different athlete than the one I am now. In some ways I imagine I will always be that same athlete somewhere deep inside. My time though, as an athlete first and everything else later, well, it came and it went. Sometimes it seems like I was on the starting line only yesterday. At other times, more now than before, it seems like it was all a different life.
And to them I am not an athlete.
I am their coach.
It is exhausting.
So many of these kids have never really run before they arrive at practice. Hell, more and more of them have never really ever competed in anything before they show up. It’s tough trying to explain to them what it means to run, truly run after greatness, your own greatness. It’s tough to explain how pure running is. It’s tough to explain the necessity of the suffering that running brings and why when you do suffer you don’t just stop and curl up in a small ball and cry but instead just keep on suffering and if possible suffer more. But, I have to explain it. I have to get them to understand. Explaining is exhausting.
I remember searching at times for something, anything positive in my own running when I just couldn’t do anything right. I remember feeling lost when it seemed that all I did was lose. Now I have 35 people that sometimes get lost, feel lost. It’s up to me to find them or at least let them know I am looking for them. That can be a lot of searching. It’s not easy. It’s exhausting.
When I was an athlete I always thought that if I just showed up I would get better. Now, they show up. Every day. And I have to come up with ways to get them better. And then when they get better I have to get them better than that. They want to always get better. Getting people better is exhausting.
As a runner it seemed that I was always walking on the edge of injury and sickness. Now, as a coach, I am walking in front, behind, alongside my athletes trying as best as I can to make sure that they don’t fall when they don’t have to or if they do fall I try to break that fall as best as I can. It can be exhausting.
When I was running I remember the stress when it came to colleges and recruiting. I remember the indecision and the confusion. Now as a coach, if I can maybe shoulder some of the burden, if I can ask the questions for them or at least stand with them maybe they won’t feel rushed or pressured. Maybe they will feel confident and relaxed. Maybe they can make the best decision for themselves. It’s a long process. It’s an exhausting process.
I remember how hard it was to do the little things when I was a runner. I remember thinking that a little thing skipped here or there was not a big deal. No one better hassle me. I run my miles. That should be enough. Now as a coach I harass them about icing and drinking water and gatorade and eating oranges and bananas and getting enough sleep and having a better diet and stretching the right way and doing drills and watching races and reading books. I’m annoying. Being annoying is exhausting.
I remember not believing in myself. Now I find myself as a coach trying to convince teenagers that they are better than they can possibly imagine. That the time, the personal best, is there inside already. Maybe the clock has not confirmed it yet but it is there. I know it. I know it before they do. I want them to believe in themselves the way I believe in them. Faith is exhausting.
Sometimes I hated running. Didn’t matter if I was running well or poorly. I loathed it. Wanted to quit it. I wanted to run away from running. Ironically. Now, I find myself telling them that I know how they feel. I understand. But, too bad. You love it too. And love always wins. Sorry. I don’t make the rules on these things. You want to complain? Go find two guys named Lennon and McCartney. Being broken by what you love is tiring. Putting someone back together is exhausting.
I find myself as a coach having to explain to some of them who Lennon and McCartney are. Having to deal with people who do not listen to the Beatles is exhausting
I remember when I was a runner wondering if it really was possible to reach my potential. Did I really have it inside me to keep working day after day. It seemed like just too much…something. Too much of everything was needed. Now I wonder if I am doing enough to help them. If I did more could they go higher? Can they make it to the top? When they do will they tell me what they see? Being a sherpa is exhausting.
I remember getting butterflies on race day. I remember getting butterflies just thinking about race day. Now I get butterflies for 40 races. That is like 100,000 butterflies. That many butterflies is exhausting.
I was an athlete. Now I am a coach.
It’s exhausting. Ask any coach. And if they are honest they will tell you that they have never slept better. We get to run dozens of races through our athletes every Saturday. We experience their highs and their lows. We get to fight the good fights and battle through those tough ones with them. We get to scream and cheer and get angry and frustrated and laugh and yes, cry right alongside all of our athletes.
It’s exhausting because we are alive the entire time we are coaching. We are involved. Life is not a spectator sport, Doc Sheehan once said. He was right. Life is not meant to be watched from the stands. It is meant to be lived racing around a great oval. Or from the infield. Life is for athletes…and coaches.
So if you find yourself in the bleachers get your butt up and out of that seat. Come down trackside. Don’t worry about the officials. Just act like you belong. (Because we all do.) Take a spot on the starting line and get ready to race. Or join me on the backstretch. I have work to do. Just like every other day. There’s always races to be run.
Remember, there are no rest days when it comes to this sport of life.
For a life fully lived should be exhausting.