Leave It All On the Track

I learned a critical life lesson while a member of my college’s track team.

I learned to leave it all on the track.

It was when my college coach moved me from the sprints to the 800 meters that I learned the first part of the lesson.

The hard way.

My first meet running the 800 was an embarrassing failure. I thought I had more in me than I actually did. I took off like I was running the 400. At 600 meters, I was leading and people were cheering …

Then I hit the wall. I suddenly started running in slow motion. The competitors overtook me, as I labored to “run” the final straightaway. I’d blown it. I had so much to learn.

It was a valuable lesson. It brought to my attention that it takes more to win a race than will power. That is a critical ingredient, but it’s not the only one. Failing taught me to also listen to my body. To know my ability.

To inhabit that level of ability until it expanded, and then to inhabit that increased ability.

I learned to pay attention to the details. Daily workouts brought new awareness of my evolving conditioning. I learned I must know my current abilities.

But that, too, was a delicate balance. Often, I thought I had nothing left. I was certain, on the 9th of 10 assigned 400’s at practice, that I couldn’t possibly run more. I was done. But after a 30 second assigned jog, the coach said, “Now another!”

I misjudged myself again. I could run one more. Training proved it over and over again: I could do another. And another. There was more in me than I thought.

Eventually — with repetition repetition repetition — I knew my body. I knew what practice had proved to me. I knew the correct pace to …

Come race day …

Leave it all on the track.

The lessons slowly and imperceptibly were integrated into my being. I could more quickly apply them to different race distances. I couldn’t explain it to anyone, I just knew it. Or better said, I felt it.

That ability translated to the roads when I moved from track to cross country to road racing. I didn’t have a coach to push me after college, so I carried her lessons within. I carried my experiences within.

I pushed myself to the limits I’d learned of myself.

On race days, whether it was a 5K or a half marathon, my goal was to arrive at the finish line at the moment I exhausted everything in me.

To miss that correct pacing was to blow the race.

Race too fast too soon, and I would repeat that awful first 800 race in college. I would exhaust everything I had within me well before the finish line, resulting in failure.

Withhold too much, and I’d never know if I could have done better. If the race was close, I’d never know if I could have won.

Experience internalized knowing how to leave it all on the track.

It is the same in the race of life.

I wish life was a nice, flat, smooth, gentle road, but steep hills sometimes pop up out of nowhere. Rocky terrain unexpectedly appears under our feet. Massive holes open up in front of us, seemingly hoping we’ll fall in.

During the difficult races of life, I draw on what I learned from running:

Empty the tank too soon and I’ll hit the wall and tighten up before the finish line. Empty the tank too late and there was more I should have done.

From running experience, I know that …

I often have more in me than I think. Having to keep on keeping on proves it so. And …

I sometimes stumble into complete exhaustion before the finish line, and I didn’t see it coming. When that happens …

I’ve learned to rest my soul, just as rest is critical in physical training.

I also learned that …

Finding the correct pace is a challenge in life, because it is ever changing and constantly surprising. It is a series of new and different races. I can’t know the right pace because I’ve never run each new race before. I have no previous experience to draw on. I don’t even know if it’s going to be a short sprint or a mega-marathon.

Each new race teaches me new things, even when I’m not aware of how, or for what purpose ahead.

The experiences become integrated into my being. I am not able to explain them, but they are there, to draw on as a past experience one day.

Even the failures — maybe especially the failures, just like that first failed 800 race in college — is never in vain. Each experience is for a purpose. I don’t have to know the purpose now, but I expect to one day. Each failure is to be remembered, so as not to repeat it.

Adjustments must be made … Wisdom must be in play …

Alter my pace. Speed up. Slow down. Push through. Stop. Rest. Recover. Proceed. Be aware, listen to the coach, trust the training, adjust, and …

Do better next time.

Ultimately, succeed in time.

I can’t possibly have the perfect performances for all the brand-new races of life. I know that with life comes challenges, some of them nearly crushing. But …

I want to do as well as I can in the series of races I call life.

I know “failure” is part of the training.

I know that to repeat the same mistakes must not happen. That is the stuff of fools, the stuff of failure. Stubborn refusal to make corrections may result in disastrous, irreparable consequences.

I know that making wise adjustments, and trusting the training of life makes it possible to succeed where I never thought possible.

I know that often there is more in me than I think.

I also know that I have a breaking point, and when it is breached, rest is essential. Recovery is part of training.

And I know that too much rest …

Means I won’t leave it all on the track.

I don’t want to go to my grave, and look back knowing I’d left abilities, potential, opportunities, or purpose in my tank.

That, to me, would be a huge regret.

So I’m focusing on finding just the right pace and just the right energy expenditure to leave it all on the track.

To do that, I need to know what my abilites are. I need to know a right opportunity (and the wrong ones) when I see them. I need to know what my purpose in life is.

Honestly, I can’t see the whole road of my life. But …

I do know the section of road that is right in front of me.

I am committed to getting that section of road right. I don’t want to compromise that standard of getting life right, any more than I would have compromised running my best possible race in my running days.

Keeping the principles of racing in mind, I want to go to my grave with nothing left. Nothing wasted.

I want to leave it all on the track.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7