“It’s not about sprinting. It’s about finding your pace; giving it all you have 100% of the time. When you finish, you should be exhausted. If you have the energy to sprint at the end, you didn’t give it 100%, and that’s something you’ll have to live with.”
I remember the first time I heard the above quote, and every subsequent time I heard it after. It was a favorite of one of the NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officer) I served under during my time in the Army. The man was, and still is, the literal definition of physical perfection, and he never missed a chance to let the rest of us bad-body-privates (another one of his favorite things to say to us) know about it.
Don’t get me wrong, the man wasn’t trying to be mean when he called us names; it was the Army, and this is just how men are to each other. Making fun and insulting each other was the way we expressed all emotions – good and bad.
But, then there were those times, when the fun was set aside; when it was time to be stern, to be a leader of men, and the quote came from one of those times.
It happened after one of our many PT (physical training) tests. We always did them in the same spot at Ft. Sill – a place called the 2 mile track. A road in the shape of a loop, like a high school track that was not quite a mile; more like .9 miles. I always thought the name 2 mile track was stupid for something that wasn’t even a mile, but as I was informed many times in my military career, no one asked for my opinion.
The PT test always consisted of the same routine; 2 min of push-ups, 2 min of sit-ups, and the dreaded 2 mile run. The push-ups and sit-ups were never a problem for me. I mean, I wasn’t a world-beater by any means, but I was always able to get within the middle of the pack type numbers every time. But the run…oh lord the run. That was a different story altogether. I hated the run.
I was never a good runner. Maybe it was because I was always overweight as a kid, and the word cardio was worse than any of the hateful things my mother said to me growing up. Or maybe it was all in my head.
My strategy for the run was simple…struggle a lap and 2/3, doing a combo run and walk while the NCOs screamed at me to stop walking and run, and then sprint the last 1/3 of a mile and pray like hell I came in under the 15:45 time limit. That’s right, 15 min and 45 seconds allowed for men my age to run 2 miles, and a lot of us didn’t always make it.
On the day of the infamous quote I had passed my PT test, but barely, coming in at a time of 15:40. And when I say I sprinted that last 1/3 of a mile, it was like I became the fat-boy version of the cartoon roadrunner just to make it.
As I stood past the finish line, doubled over and trying to regain my breath, that’s when I heard the tirade in question begin. I thought nothing of it at the time and chalked it up to just another of many ass-chewings the lower ranked soldiers took on a regular basis. It wasn’t until later that day when I was talking with that same NCO and I jokingly asked, “What’s your deal man? Why were you getting so pissy about people sprinting at the end? I mean, what’s the big deal, we finished, right??”
I expected one of his usual joking, yet biting, insult-laden responses, but instead I received something far different. He looked me square in the eye and said, “Is that really the kind of life you want to live?” I was confused, I thought we were just talking about running. He continued, “Just getting by in life, and then sprinting toward the end? What kind of life is that to live. You need to find a pace. No matter if it’s running, working out, interacting with others, jobs, and even family. Find your pace. A pace that makes you feel good. A pace that will keep you from stopping and half-assing it, then sprinting towards the finish line.”
I understood what he meant, but at 21 years old, I was too naive and far too stubborn to take his words to heart.
Fast forward almost 17 years. I’m now 38 years old. I’ve been out of the Army for more than 3 times the amount of time I was in, and I can finally say, I get it now.
Not much about me has changed in 17 years, except…I run now, and I’m actually pretty good at it. But, when I run now, I find a pace that works for me; I don’t quit; I focus on one step at a time, not necessarily reaching the finish line as fast as possible, just getting there when the time is right.
As much as I still hate running, it now helps me think. It’s one of the few things that helps put my mind at rest; clears out a lot of the jumble so I can think clearly. It helps find a pace for my thought process.
I’ve come to realize my problem with sprinting goes far beyond my issues with running; it encompasses my entire life. From working out, to how I build/maintain relationships with people, to my career, but worst of all, being a husband and father.
I’m always looking ahead, trying to reach some imaginary finish line, as if there is some sort of prize or reward at the end. I’ve been so focused at pushing forward, keep going, keep going, that I have forgotten to find a pace that works for me and enjoy the run. I’ve been so focused on pushing forward, head down, that I’m missing all the scenery around me…because at the end of the end, isn’t that the real reward; the real prize? To see everything happening around you? To watch your partner grow old beside you, to witness your children grow up, and marvel in what they accomplish?
The old adage is that life is a marathon, not a sprint. I really hope that’s true, because I’ve missed far too much because of sprinting. Now, I’d rather find a pace that works for me, and just enjoy the run.