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Are you on track?
Much of who and what I am today, I owe to the Weber State University Track & Field program. Distance running was my life. My teammates and I poured everything into the accomplishment of specific and lofty goals. We gave athletics a lot. It gave a lot back.
I loved those days of butt slapping camaraderie that only those who have laughed and suffered hard together can appreciate. After marrying (Alydia and I met on the team), and beginning our family and my professional speaking career, I didn’t think I really missed the sport all that much. However, while reading John L. Parker Jr’s powerful novel, Return to Carthage, I realized there was something I did miss – and I missed it a lot.
When you are a competitive runner you are constantly on a quest for excellence. You are absolutely focused on being better today than you were yesterday and better still tomorrow. Tiny improvements represent huge victories. You are an organism constantly evolving to a preconceived approximation of perfection. This isn’t just an ideal. This is a runner’s job! This quest for excellence is something real runners live.
When we were young competitive runners, we strove to be the strongest, the fastest – the best we could be. To achieve our personal best required more than hard work. It required a focused will. As Parker says, “It takes effort, determination, conviction. But mostly, it takes will. It takes a conscious decision to follow one difficult uphill path, and then the will to stay with it and not waiver, not to give up.”
Parker is right. Running was more than a sport. Our habit of constant improvement, our quest for excellence set the pace for life. When we ran well, we tended to excel academically, socially, spiritually.
Then what happened? As we got older, did we continue to strive for excellence, or did we feel we had arrived – become good enough at whatever we are good at? Did we lose that drive? That determined quest for excellence? I had. And I wanted that feeling back.
I’m older now. Life is good. I have been blessed with a wonderful family and a professional speaking and writing career. It is fun and fulfilling to enthuse a group of young people, instruct a group of educators, inspire a room full of coal miners. I have been blessed and blessed and blessed with opportunity, victories…
But I felt somehow stagnated. I missed that directed focus, that drive, that quest for excellence. It occurred to me that I had gotten “good enough” in too many ways.
It also occurred to me that I could still reclaim the quest. Even at forty-five years of age (that’s one hundred sixty in dog years). I could try once again to achieve whatever standard of athletic excellence a forty five year old might achieve.
I could be a runner again. Thank you John Parker!
So, last winter, I got back on track – literally. A five-minute mile is a lofty goal. Let’s try for that. In February, I ran 4:32. Wow. I called my old, retired, (USATF Hall of Fame) college coach, Chick Hislop, to see what he thought of that. After a long pause, he simply said, “I guess we both ought to come out of retirement. Are you ready for one more adventure?”
Thus the quest began anew.
The indoor American Masters 45 – 49 age group record in the mile (also the world record), is 4:20.18. By late March I had run 4:26. In mid-April, 4:23. Then, on a sunny day in late April at a Utah State University collegiate meet, I ran the fastest masters age group 3000 meter in the country.
I also broke my foot in the process. My 2012 quest was prematurely ended.
Now it’s 2013. On January 12, I ran 4:25.92, at Idaho State University. This old man blew past college kids! January 19, Boise State, 4:21.58. This weekend I’m headed for Boston and a shot at that Masters record. I’m fit. Inspired. Determined.
How about you? Are you still on track?
I’m raising a family, advancing my career and doing some good in the world – and again know that marvelous feeling, that focused, determined, quest for excellence.
I’m back on track.