In high school I was a runner. That’s how I identified myself. They were formative years for me, when I learned a great deal about stick-to-it-ive-ness. I no longer run competitively (injuries took me out), but I still lean on the lessons learned in high school when I’m faced with difficult times.
My cross-country coach was Ron Bish. He was an amazing guy. He had a business job, and would come to practices more often than not in a business suit and running shoes. On days of home meets, he would be seen in this attire setting out the cones along the course. Every race he would scream himself hoarse. He was always there. Always the voice of determination.
He died a little over a week ago. Wow. Am I so old? Was he? I reflected on all the things he ever said to us. I refer to them to this day.
Get out and exercise “…while the competition is home by the fire.” Every rainy day he would say this to us. Yes, our foes would be home staying warm and dry and we’d be out doing intervals. I remember one such day when we went out for a quick three-miler in the pouring rain. The lightning was pink, and despite the fact that we were all soaked, everyone’s hair was standing up. (In retrospect, we really shouldn’t have been out there that day, for safety reasons.) To this day, when I find myself in a situation where I have a legitimate excuse to not do something, I remember this, drag myself up, and get started. Because the competition is home by the fire.
“Get mad!” This Coach Bish reserved for me. He knew this was how to reach me. Others needed pep talks and encouragement. I needed to be mad. “Don’t let her beat you!” he’d say. The starting line of each race started the same. He’d single me out. “Get mad, Penny.” And I would. I couldn’t let that made-up, perfume-wearing girl outrun me! I’d get mad, and I’d run as fast as I possibly could. No other coach that I have ever had has been able to make that connection with me. They have always tried the gentle encouragement method. Fact is, I have to be furious to get the job done. These days, I find that I am most productive when I’m angry. My best work is done when I feel like I have something to prove. But now, the difference is that I’m competing against myself. I have to show myself that I can do what must be done. My own complacency is what makes me mad. Once I’m mad, work starts to happen.
I don’t run competitively anymore, though in the last year I have finally been able to run again, after a ten-year hiatus. Every step I take reminds me of my high school cross-country days. I still work out almost every day. And on those days when I really don’t want to exercise, I remember Ron. Get mad, Penny. Don’t sit there by the fire.