Since they were five years old, my daughters have been champions, record breakers, and Junior Olympian track stars. It’s been a great run so far. We’ve had our share of injuries, setbacks and disappointments, but I’ve always maintained that “Track Is Life” and that the lessons on the track can be applied to life outside of it.
Mostly, track is an individual sport, with the opportunity to improve and succeed as an individual. For more than a decade as a track family, I have learned lessons from all of the practices, meets, relays, championships, teams, travel, track clubs, associations, coaches, parents and athletes. What intrigues me is the language of track—the various phrases that a coach, a parent or even spectators will yell or scream as athletes run, jump or throw. Here are four that I believe teach the greatest lessons beyond the familiar “On Your Mark, Get Set, Go.”
1. Certain mechanics in running determine efficiency. Form is one. The main reason runners lose form is because they become tired. To improve, you must not lose form; otherwise, you run the risk of injury and stress to the body. You should feel comfortable keeping hands at waist level.
Life can be grueling, but when you feel tempted to faint, remembering your form and doing what works can take you to your destination successfully. The motivation is seeing your end in sight, no matter how far off it may seem.
2. “Keep Your Head Straight.” This has a double meaning. Attitude is altitude and having a positive outlook no matter the outcome is sometimes the determining factor in a race. If you feel like you’re already defeated, then you most likely are. It’s intimidating to line up next to an elite or the star athlete. My girls are both, and I can only imagine the intimidation. However, there is always someone else that performs at a higher level than you do. So, we’ve shared with our girls that no matter who they are stacked against, remember their training, be positive and do your best.
3. Tightness in the neck, as well as fatigue, occurs from looking down. This causes greater strain, especially in the latter part of your run. Looking down will only show you where you are, instead of where you need to go. So concentrate on where you want to go. Spending too much energy focused on where you are can lead to depression, dissatisfaction and even mental defeat. This kind of attitude can cause you to lose before you even begin and to give up while you’re still pursuing. So, keep your head straight.
4. My daughters have run the 100m to the 800m every track season. The straightaway on a track is easier to run. It’s the curves that require additional skill as you must lean into the curve in order to not lose your balance. We enjoy momentum and stride as we accomplish each goal. If we’re not careful, we can become comfortable in our pace and neglect to lean when there’s a curve. Learning to lean helps to maintain, but adjust to each curve that comes our way.
Over-confidence can be a runner’s nightmare. I’ve watched online and on the track where a runner thought they had a race in the bag and may have even started celebrating, only to be passed up unexpectedly at the finish line by another runner. Always, “Run Through the Tape” and pass the finish line. To me, the finish line is a line of demarcation. While it’s your ultimate destination, it is not your stopping point. We can get so excited about finishing that we forget about completion. Don’t celebrate too early. Your competition is closer than you think.
At the same rate, especially in longer runs, due to poor training, lack of conditioning or pure exhaustion, it’s tempting to slow down at the finish line. After all, you finally made it. But remember that every second counts and your slowing down may have just given the competition a glimmer of a chance at winning. So, no matter how hard the race, run all the way through and obtain the place you earned. Leave nothing to chance.
Track is Life and Life is Track. Run accordingly and endure to the end.