Through the Line

EUGENE, OR - JULY 09: Bernard Lagat, first place, Hassan Mead, second place, and Paul Chelimo, third place, cross the finishline in the Men's 5000 Meter Final during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on July 9, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Last week on a peaceful Sunday afternoon, something came across my mind and told me that I needed to run.

I changed into some old sneakers, threw on a shirt, and grabbed headphones.

I made my way down the stairs of my apartment, opened and exited my gate, and walked. onto the street. After glancing into the neighborhood, I sprung into a quick striding pace. My joints felt rigid, but surprisingly I felt my gears turning in a familiar way. As if rust was shaking off with each stride. My feet bounced up and down the earth. My eyes alert to the uneven terrain and potholes on the ground.

I continued at a nice pace for the next 10 minutes. I focused more on my breathing, I had realized that focusing and being intentional about a more rhythmic breathing creates more oxygen exchange in the body and blood flow. This always your mind and body to really work better. Curtsey of meditation it was now much easier to notice. It is an obvious truth, but I noticed that I could have been even more intentional with it in the past.

Eventually as I kept pushing, I felt my breath begin to become heavy and raspy. I felt my quads and hamstring begin to lock as lactic acid built up more and more. My running form was starting to break down. I knew I couldn’t sustain my pace forever. I saw the main road outside of the neighborhood appear in the horizon. As my track team often used to do in workouts and distance runs, I set an artificial target. That would be my finish line to take a break and recover. With the main road as a target in my head as a finish line, I felt a second wind. My physical body was exhausted, my mind was telling me I should slow down or stop. It was resolve in the soul that carried me forward.

With the drive, I tried to return to my running form and breath again. I ate away at the distance and before I knew ir, I was a few steps away from the finish line. A sense of relief started to envelop me as I knew my recovery was coming. A few strides before the main road, I began to slow down. I slowed from a stride to a light jog, to a serene walk across the finish line I set. After walking across the line, I thought “Hmm didn’t quite finish through the line there” All of a sudden the words “Through the line” rang like a bell through my head.

A memory faded into my mind as my immediate surroundings faded away. I was on the side of the track heads over my head, breathing around. Yelling three words to my team members sprinting towards the finish line. “Through the line!” 

For 7 year stretch of my life, running was part of my identity. Running track in Middle School and High School was one of the things I spent the most time doing in that time period. From practice, to track meets, to preparation from online materials, to mental preparation it was probably my most time intensive activity besides school.

From starting as a young guy on the track team it was always about learning and absorbing information. Listening to the coaches, during orientation, team meetings, and during practice. The impact of what they say created the culture of the team. My high school coaching staff had been together for over a decade. They were proud of the fact that no matter which students graduated, they continued to excel each year.

They weren’t defined by any star athlete, they were defined by a philosophy. The team and work ethic were instrumental values. Even someone with all the talent in the world, if they were a negative influence on the team culture or didn’t show up to practice, they would be kicked off without a second thought.

I paid close attention to not just what was said but why they said it. When a coach would reprimand me or a teammate. I would ponder and contemplate, trying to understand the underpinning values of why they said what they said.

I would watch the older teammates and the way they would work. Where I was seeing a whirlwind around me, they were at peace. They got it. They would seem miles away physically, but their mentality, work ethic, and leadership were what enamored me.

And finally learning I was learning from experiences and trial and error. Day to day there was a new lesson. From focusing on new insights like exaggerating arm swinging for more powerful strides to learning the negative effects of complaining at having to compete in races that were not one of my favorites. If the team needs you for something, do it without complaint.

As I advanced in my years and I grew, I matured into a leadership role on the team. I found younger athletes looking to me for guidance. The same guidance I once sought out others for.

I realized that there was a new responsibility I had on the team. Unlike when I was younger, my charge was no longer limited to my individual results. As someone leading workouts, given vocal opportunities to speak, and a seniority that gave my behavior and actions more weight: I was now accountable for the growth, improvement, and results of my team members.

One of the values coaches had always told us was that it’s about how you finish.

No matter if practice or workout or warmup lap. Never come up short before the finish line. The clock is running and you should always strive for the best time you can possibly achieve. If you slow down, you are subconsciously saying that my desire to rest and relieve the pain exceeds my will to give my best. If you give way to that pressure, you will see that behaviors translate the real competition.

When the body and mind shut down. Willpower is what takes you across.

That is the origin of “through the line” expression. It was my value of my coaches in my own vernacular.

At the end of the race, the only thing that matters is finishing through the line. Talent, speed, and experience didn’t matter to finish. It doesn’t matter if you are in first or last. No difference if your race was alone or with dozens on the track. It doesn’t matter if anyone was even watching. What matters is your spirit willing you across the line as hard as you can.

It means what Coach Taylor from Facing the Giants meant to Brock during the Death Crawl when he said promise me your very best.

It’s a value that we all ingrained on our team during my stint with the team. A value that I hope still continues to be emphasized in the next generation that is there now.

As my reality faded back into the present, I realized I had tears streaming on my face. A strong sense of euphoria had made me realize that I had just failed to apply one of my most sacred values. After reflecting: I wasn’t mad at myself, I wasn’t disappointed, I was actually visualizing how much those teachers, mentors, and friends had given me. The value of the experiences was what caused the emotions. And I knew in order to fully embrace and honor the memories, I must keep the principles that I felt were transformative and ones I’d want to pass on.

Finishing through the line was non-negotiable and I was glad I remembered that I should not forget to do this. As I walked towards the junction in the road, I remember being told to always start a work-out with 2 warm-up laps. That I would always feel much more prepped for the workout instead of jumping right into with my muscles feeling tight.

I jogged down the long road that we always took a cab down when returning to our house from the main road. Warming up at a pace that didn’t place strain on my body allowed me to really start feeling looser. My legs were starting to regain the potent strength that you feel when you break down and muscle and build it back up. As I passed people on the road, they saw my tears accompanied with a smile. There was no judgment or raised eyebrows in their expressions. There were shared nods of acknowledgment as if to say “Keep going”.

On the last 400m, I decided to will my body into a full sprint. As I pumped my arms and moved forward, I ate up the ground below my meet. I felt like I picked up speed with each step. The finish line of my apartment gate was in sight. I surged forward, leaning my body into the finish.

I finished strong in full-stride:

Through the Line


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