Port-to-Port supports the Information System at the Charles A Tindley Accelerated School, which is where I coached the Cross Country teams for the past three years. At the end of the season last fall, I told the Athletic Director that I would not be returning as their coach this fall. I didn’t feel that the students were committed to running. I wasn’t receiving any parental support, and the staff was working too hard at educating these kids to give much time to supporting their athletic endeavors. In the end, that meant I was working far harder than I had anticipated and receiving little reward so I decided that I’d be better off assisting a coach where some of those support mechanisms had been in place for a while.
Last Friday I was at the school discussing future technology plans with Marcus Robinson, the Principal. As we walked around the school, I had three students on separate occasions come up to me and ask when we’re going to start Cross Country practice. To the first one I said I wasn’t going to be coaching next Fall. To the second one I said I don’t think I’ll be coaching next Fall. To the third one I said I will only be coaching if there are 10 students committed to starting practice in June. I was overwhelmed by the interest of these three would-be runners. They made me realize that even though it didn’t seem like I was getting anywhere, I was really having an impact on the way these students looked at running.
I will go back as the Cross Country coach if there are runners committed to coming to practice. I’ve learned to be a better coach since the season ended last Fall. These young men and women have started thinking of themselves as runners since then too.
A bad thing for me about living in Indiana is that Winter is so cold. I realize that some of the coldness of Winter has to do with my growing older. I don’t remember Winter being as cold when I was growing up, but all evidence indicates it was actually colder. Nonetheless, every Winter seems colder and longer than any previous Winter I can remember. It’s only a problem because Winter means taking my physical fitness indoors. I spend the months from November to April running on a treadmill in the basement of the Port-to-Port office building. While it’s a good enough workout to keep me in shape, it leaves me feeling like a running zombie.
I’ve found that the thing that has kept me running for more than 30 years is the mental benefit I derive from it. Running is my way of communing with god. It’s my spiritual connection to the living world. I just can’t get that connection from a treadmill in the basement. I try to compensate by spending more time meditating after each run. I walk my dog, Gracie, to spend some time outdoors. I learn to suffice with these poor substitutions for the great outdoor run…until I get to have that first outdoor run of the year. After that, the treadmill feels like a death sentence.
Well, that outdoor run came a few weeks ago. Since then I’ve been unable to sustain even twenty minutes on the treadmill. I ache for nice weather, and I take advantage of every little bit we get. I own so much high-tech running wear that I never use because I hate the cold weather. This Spring I’ve been putting it to use. It’s made me a nicer person to be around.
I’ve been a long distance runner ever since I first learned about Cross Country in high school. I enjoy a long run in what can only be described as a spiritual way. It’s my chance to be alone with the cosmos. Over the years, I’ve worked with other people to help them reach the point in running where they can experience the spiritual element of the sport. It’s what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called Flow.
Three years ago, I became the first Cross Country coach of the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School. Nothing I did in those three years could inspire my kids to want to run. I finally gave up after our third disappointing season and decided that I’m just not as good at coaching as I thought I was. Then I decided to get better.
I always complained about coaches who just sent kids out to run and hoped that by running more, they’d get better. One of the reasons they do this is that it works a good deal of the time. The single best determinant of a runner’s success is the number of runs he puts in. I tried to teach running like other sports: It has a play book but there’s only one play in it. When people comment on the variety of running styles in the field, I point out that the kids in front don’t have that variety, and on the national stage, the variety is even less. My point is that there is a best way to run. I have been trying to figure it out thru trial-and-error for thirty-some years.
Well I found a resource that supports my belief. It also pointed out where my preferred form is still a bit off from the ideal. So now I’m re-training myself to run. Sounds silly doesn’t it. I’m already better. Next, I need to find a team to coach.