“I put too much pressure on her!”
“She looks stressed!”
“Why is she smiling?”
“I over-trained them!”
“I under-trained them!”
The incessant stream of thoughts floods my mind as the racers go flying by.
“Where are the Whispers? They should be here by now!”
Underestimating the field and under-appreciating the fluid form of the front 50 runners and how they make their pace look so easy, I can’t help but think my runners should be here by now!
“Where is our front-runner? Who is our front-runner of the day? Kira? Abby? Katelyn? One of those three should be here by – ABBY!”
Abby runs distances like a sprinter – aggressive. Her form needs some tinkering, but the girl can fly! On this day, she looks fast! Her place in the pack – the top 100 – was unusual, but her feet spent little time on the ground, something I noticed during the warm-up. When she races, you’d be shocked to know she is only five feet tall.
I was standing at around the 1200m spot, where I was expecting to see Kira, then Abby. After seeing Abby, Kira flies by seconds later. In the midst of this chaos, those moments seem to take minutes. All I can do is continue to encourage, but Kira looked stressed at that time.
One of my key factors in training is to always remember that these are kids I’m training, not adults. They’re kids! With one exception, this team is a group of middle school runners – kids. Asking one runner, a middle schooler, to take on the responsibility of leading the group through the first two kilometers was a tall order, one we spent the previous four weeks rehearsing. Abby, Kira, and Katelyn were to run shoulder to shoulder, with Kira bring our barometer - the pace-setter in the middle. She was to govern the pace for the first two kilometers, or for as long as possible.
Soon after Katelyn, Callie and Ashley raced by, quickly followed by Emily, Kiley, and Candi. Kiley looked less than pleased. The race was fast and I could only wonder how she was feeling. Encouraging her was all I could do.
Along with coaches and spectators, I raced to the other side of the double-looped course in the opposite direction of the runners. It was during this moment, where I was seeking a good position to see the girls, that I began to question myself as a coach. Reflecting on workouts and miles run over the last six months. Reflecting on pre-race pep talks from this race, and others. Were the workouts too much? Was the mileage too little? Were their psyches too worked up or were they asleep at the wheel?
At around 2.5k into the 4k race I found myself at the top of the slick, 40-meter stretch of claylike mud. In my angst, counting by fives was all I could do. It wasn’t until around 80 that our first Whisper girl came by. Doing my best to gauge my runners merely by the look in their eyes, most of the Whispers looked spent. The downward spiral of doubting myself as a coach continued, myself as a person soon after. It wasn’t until Emily came by, as I now reflect, that I should have known to live by the Bob Marley song of Three Little Birds, which I reiterate to my runners at practice when necessary, “Everything’s gonna be alright.”
Sprinting my way back to the other side of the spectator path, nearing the 3200m mark, I took a peak at my watch as Abby raced by, “12:15-ish.” This can’t be right. She’s running sub-16 pace, with her previous 4k at 16:40. Kira right behind her, and Katelyn not far behind, I began jogging toward the oncoming runners. Callie, Ashley, Emily, and Kiley zoom by, and like all the other coaches, it was then a mad-dash to the finish line.
Missing Abby’s finish and knowing my watch was a few seconds off, I asked Fiona, Kira’s mom, “What did you have for Abby?” “I didn’t catch Abby’s time, but Kira was around 15:35,” she replied.
Wait, what? Are you kidding me? Did I miss the entire race? This whole time, I had been questioning every decision I have made since last April, and now we might have three girls running huge personal best times?
Far off, up the hill, Callie is seen controllably-uncontrollably sprinting down the hill, bobbing and weaving through the foot traffic. Soon after, the rest of the Whisper crew scream by. Six personal best times of the eight runners in one day. On the right day, at the right time.
It appears I should have remembered our mantra: On this day, everything went alright.
This degree of self-doubt, I'd imagine, is what most passionate and involved coaches must feel, no matter if the race is at the start of the season or the end. It's healthy, so long as there is balance, self-awareness in program design, and a willingness to continue learning - this includes learning from the good races, as well as the not-so-good. The kids put in some grueling workouts between November 18 and December 9, each workout aiming toward one common goal - Nationals. We all knew the kids were talented and could run fast. It merely came down to knowing how to run, and run well at the right time. Putting small bits of controllable energies into play, and doing what we've trained the bodies to do, which was to run fast, implementing a plan, and staying awake at the wheel.
Not two hours after the race, one parent asked about the team plan for 2018. Although I said that I am trying to enjoy the present moment of earning 13th place at Nationals, my mind had already begun thinking of the kids lined up for next season, and it'll be just as eventful.
To all the coaches and runners: Here's to a healthy amount of self-doubt and the beautiful reward reaped through patience, perseverance, and believing in yourself!