“Hard all the way!” was the continuous coaching cry of my Grade 5 teacher. As a teacher, he was fairly middle-of-the-road. Nothing bad to say about him, but he also wouldn’t exactly make a list of my top five teachers.
But what does make this man stick in my memory is that mantra of “hard all the way”.
When I joined the school track team, I was not a natural. I didn’t even enjoy the running events. But some 30 years later, I’m so glad that I did take that on. No, it didn’t give me a foundation in running that stuck with me and made me a gazelle on the roads. Nor did it give me life-long friends with stories to share about the good old days in track & field at a tiny grade school on the country roads of Eastern Ontario. That would make a nice movie, but let’s face it, Facebook has done more for those connections than anything we survived under a track coach.
What that brief – and possibly embarrassing, because I wasn’t any good at all – stint in track gave me was “hard all the way”.
In track, athletes need to drive through the finish line. If you run to the finish line, you’re slowing down before the race is done. Run through that finish line, and you preserve the power and speed you’ve built up in the race – whether it’s a sprint or distance effort.
So goes life, I think.
We can’t aim for the finish line. We have to aim through it. And, in fact, “hard all the way” can be read as “things may be difficult all the way along”. I read it both ways. I find both are true. And that’s what makes it all interesting.
When you’re 10 or 11 years old you don’t know what’s going to stick in your head. Even when you’re 40 you still don’t know. But some things – like your track coach yelling at you to run through the finish line, not just up to it – do stick. And when you least expect it, you will be able to pull those from your consciousness and put them to work.
In 2011, weighing in at about 250 pounds (about 75 over a healthy body weight), I made a pledge with my wife to drop some weight, get fit, and be a healthier person – both physically and emotionally. Since then, I’ve done exactly that. It started with baby steps of eating better, walking more, and taking back up strength training and our spinning bike. From there, it graduated to riding outdoors, running a bit, and generally getting more fit. From there, the acquisition of a road bike, running more, and getting downright consistent about eating right, exercising, and living a healthier lifestyle – without giving up the fun stuff, like wine, whiskey and good eats. Healthier people still need to have some fun. But also, a life without those joys isn’t really a life I’m interested in at this point.
Now, four years later, I’m 75 pounds lighter, many sizes smaller and a dedicated duathlete. I’m as mediocre a hockey player as I ever was, but I’m fitter, faster and stronger than ever before – the ideal play-maker on any team (that’s code for “I don’t score goals, but I set up the goal scorers!”). I train six to eight hours a week, but on any given day, I have energy to spare. At 41, I’ve found my feet.
Don’t buy any illusion that this has been easy, miraculous, or progressed in a perfectly straight line. Yes, there are before and after pics. But the story goes much deeper.
Hard all the way. This race isn’t near done, or at least I hope not.
Life’s finish line isn’t always clear in sight. But I’m going to charge ahead, right through that finish line. And as I do, I’ll share some of the journey. Because if I can do this, anyone can. And maybe someone will find their inspiration in something I share.
Like I did at the track with Peter Bird.
“Hard all the way!”