Monday, October 03, 2016

Personal Best

One of the best parts of being a parent of a teenager is the pleasure of watching my child come into his own being.  JT loves physical activity, a trait that was apparent in him pretty much the moment he learned to walk.  For his whole life, he’s brought both confidence in his physical ability and an innate caution that is rather an unusual combination.  I remember when he was two years old and liked the slide at our local park.  He’d scramble up the ladder and then pause to situate himself before he slid down, hands up and ready to fly.  This combination of confidence and caution was empowering to us both.  I knew he wouldn’t climb to the top of the jungle gym if he didn’t feel confident he could come down safely.  He knew that I would let him take risks.  In sports, he’s found a place to express that combination of confidence and caution and be a team member who pulls his teammates forward.
I am proud of what he’s learned about himself.

This fall, he’s running in his fifth season on the Cross Country team.  He’s always liked running and for the last two years he’s treated the season as a chance to train with a team and enjoy himself.  But he’s grown up a lot in the last year and over the summer he made an effort to run and push himself so that he entered the cross country season in much better condition.  This year, he was ready to ratchet up the personal challenge.  He brought some friends to the team and at practice, he pushed them and himself.  His coaches were pleased; he was proud of his effort.  In early races, he ran well enough to score times that were his personal best.  He did this three races in a row and earned the last of seven Varsity running positions.  He began to speak with the coaches about how much faster he could finish a race.

JT has always been a good finisher; turning on the gas in the final 300 yards and regularly passing the runners in his path.  The trick for JT was to start stronger, holding the pace in the second mile and still having enough energy to finish strong.  For all his teenager boy traits, JT is cautious.  Running faster early in the race felt risky to him.  During a race, runners can’t use a watch so he needed to develop an internal sense of pacing.  So he tried it at practice where the task at hand was pacing and timing.  The varsity team ran up and down a stretch of road, checking their timing with each mile, and getting a sense of where they should be and how they could get there.

Last Wednesday, the team returned to a course they’d run earlier in the year.  JT was determined to see what he was made of.  He ran faster from the start and in the first half-mile, he was toward the front of the pack, a place I’ve not seen him run that early in the race.  He looked good.  As the race progressed, I could see him from across the field, holding the quicker pace he’d set from the start.  At the mid-point of the race, he was in the top 15.  He held that pace at the end and finished strong.  Two hundred yards out, the runner in front of him knew he was going to be passed.  JT finished the race with a personal best time that was 2 minutes faster then he had ever run before, 19:34 in a 5k race.  

My boy spent the next two days walking two feet off the ground, proud of his effort and enjoying the congratulations of his coaches and team members.  He’s not the best runner on the team, but he’s a good runner working steadily to get better.  His spot on the Varsity team is looking more secure each day. Meeting that challenge is a life lesson that will linger long after the season is complete.  

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