On Friday I had the pleasure of teaching at a school that was hosting their own track and field day for grades 4 to 8. I was lucky enough to supervise the boys' track portion of the event and left feeling inspired and amazed. Here's what I saw:
The track events consisted of 60m, 100m, 200m, 400m, and an optional 800m run. The boys went in heats based on grade and/or age so there was a break between races to watch 6-7 heats before they were up again for the next and longer race.
Lesson #1: Running is more fun with friends
Every race had an audience of at least 100 boys, plus parents, volunteers, and younger classes that came to observe. Every runner looked like he was having fun watching and racing. The boys that had the most fun ran side by side with a friend, pretended to be flying like a plane down the field, or somersaulted at every corner. There were cheers and high-fives and pats on the back. It was awesome to see such spirit and sportsmanship. Many boys even crossed the finish line and then made another lap to encourage and run alongside those that crossed the finish line far behind the front-runners just so every runner would have someone to cross the finish line beside.
Lesson #2: Surpassing our own expectations feels fantastic
There were a few boys that were very overweight. One in particular stood out above all other runners. We cheered him on from the 30m mark until he walked across the 60m line in more than double the other runners' time gasping for breath and announcing that he was not going to race anymore. We told him he had to do the 100m but he could walk it. He ran/walked the 100m to our cheers and claps and jogged across the finish line less winded than before with a huge grin on his face. He said he most certainly was not going to run 150m. We told him it jumps to 200m and he most certainly was going to try it. He lined up for the 200m and took off running, he slowed to a jog, he walked...the other boys corss the finish line when he was approaching the 100m mark...a few boys continued running, caught up to him, and cheered him on as they jogged/walked side by side the rest of the way home. The entire crowd of more than 200 people cheered. he smiled and said nothing. We said he could run one lap (200m) for the 400m race. He lined up for the 400m and completed it crossing alone smiling and laughing. The 800m optional race began and he lined up - he completed half. He was so proud, he was impressive, he made me happy for him and ashamed of myself for not trying my 1km run.
Lesson #3: Even when we're exhausted it's possible to find a final burst of energy
On one of the lengthier races (I believe the 400m) two boys rounded the final corner looking exhausted. They were at a slow jog and were so far behind the front-runners they looked like they were just trying to cross the finish line. They did not realize they were running for 6th place as ribbons were handed out for the top 6 runners of each race. We shouted to them that they were running for 6 and they glanced at each other and took off at full speed. They cross steps apart from each other and collapsed onto the grass beyond the finish line. They gave it everything they had when they thought they had nothing left to add.
Lesson #4: Finishing is more important than winning
The oldest heat of boys consisted of only 5 runners. There were 6 ribbons to hand out for every race so each boy in this heat was guaranteed to get a ribbon. This did not go unnoticed by the boys as they very early on decided that they would determine the finishing order. They went full tilt for the 60m dash. They lagged behind the slower runners for the 100m and 200m races allowing them to finish in the top spots. They ran side by side, 5 guys in a row, for the 400m and 800m races and stopped 10feet before the finish to cross in their predetermined order. They didn't care who was faster or had more endurance. They cared that they all got recognized for finishing to the best of their ability and to them that meant getting first place on at least one race.
Lesson #5: Some people are just born to be runners
There was one boy that you could tell was apart from the rest. He lined up in his track gear with Brasil across his chest. He crouched differently at the starting line. He wiggled his toe into the grass to get a good starting grip. His arms were locked into running position and you could clearly see the strips of muscles running up his calves. He just looked like a runner amongst schoolboys. He ran differently than everyone else with precision form and large fast movements. He never gasped for breath. He crossed almost every line in half the time of all the other boys (even 2nd place). I say almost because for the 800m he jogged next to his entire class, even the ones skipping or rolling or holding their shorts up around their waists, until the last 50 feet where he turned on his jets again.
This is what running should feel like. It should be fun and exciting, full of friends and cheers, and focused on finishing and doing your best even when you didn't know what your best was going to become in the end. Next time I run I plan to run like a 10-14 year old boy. I hope you do too.