Learning from a slow teammate

5:30 am.

My ankle isn’t right, but I want to do this race today.  It will help me prepare for bigger ones, and is a lot of fun.  In fact, I have been looking forward to it all week.  One of the competitors on our team came over to our house and spent the night here, and we are driving towards the race site in about 30 minutes.  He is still asleep, but I am asking the question, “should I do this race?”

As I told Heather, the single biggest enemy of this preparation is injury.  I can overcome all sorts of things, but not broken body parts.  Today, I can get better or I can get worse. The choices as I see them are stay home and rest my ankle or suck it up and do the survival race.  I am not defining suck it up correctly.  My ego is in the way.

Dopamine wins.  I am running this survival race.  Sixteen obstacles, 5k, a couple hundred competitors.  I am saying a prayer and running this thing.  Time to wake everyone up and start cooking breakfast.

3:15 pm.

So glad God did that race with me.  Somewhere before the halfway point in the race, two concurrent events happened.  Event 1:  My foot began to “tickle,” and Event 2:  my teammates were so far behind that they were nowhere to be seen.  Granted, one guy from last year’s team had dropped out and the replacement wasn’t in the same physical condition, but still….we had only been running for 10 or 15 minutes, and they were so far back they couldn’t be seen.  At the halfway point, a race official/volunteer stopped me and asked me if the rest of the team was here to complete the next obstacle as a team.  I shook my head, “no” and said that I needed to step off to the side and wait for them.

The first emotion that pulsed in my veins was resentment.  How was it that I was that much ahead of everyone, when I am 15 years older than one of my teammates, and he was an all-state athlete!  Then, it hit me.  My prayer was getting answered.  My feelings migrated from mad as hell towards a blend of gratitude and humility.  Gratitude came from the recognition that my morning prayer was getting answered.  I prayed this am that we finish and we stay safe.  Seems simply enough-people say it with their children at bed and night and say them out of habit.  Just literally a few minutes earlier, my foot was feeling discomfort, and now I was getting a mandatory rest.

“Thank you, Jesus.”

The second emotion was humility.  I was not self-controlled enough to see the moment and slow down, and I needed direct intervention to stop.  I got help when I failed to self-provide.

After two minutes, the girl who had pulled us over, asked me what our teammate’s name was.  I told her, and she began yelling out “come on, Bryan!”  and “You can do it!” every few seconds, hoping to motivate him.  Shame on me for not doing it first.  Why did it take a stranger to realize that the best path through adversity is one of motivation and support?  I followed her lead and began saying the same things she said, and we even clapped for him as he began to appear in the distance.  As he got closer, I was anxious to get started but the rules changed.  Bryan was spent and needed a quick rest.  I as Bryan approached, I turned to the other teammate and said, “well, you know we aren’t going to win this thing now, right?”  He was quick to note, “That’s OK.  I am having fun.”

Touché!  Well said, Geremy.  At that point, I smiled and committed to making lemonade out of lemons, too.  He was making the best of this day….why shouldn’t I?

After taking another minute to rest and have a drink of water, Bryan shared that his right side was giving him fits, we decided as a group that Bryan will run in the front, and we will follow his lead.

Now was my moment to make the most of my new reality.  It took zero time to conclude that I was going to spend the next half of the race doing Pilates, for 1.5 miles of trail running and through 6 obstacles.  I engaged my core and truly dug deep at each event to remain perfectly upright and strong.  I never took the easy route through an obstacle.  When we would approach an inclined slope, I would run sideways on gravel and intentionally engage oblique muscles, and I kept them engaged.  As we jumped over creeks and crossed over see saws, I would land and stabilize before running forward.  This is so not how I normally run.  I normally fight through the tough spots and push my legs forward, whether I am stable or slipping to and fro.

As we approached the last obstacle-a 20 yard swim in a lake, followed by a quick uphill run, I stopped to turn to Bryan and yelled, “Finish strong!”  Many contestants in front of us were entering a little bit timidly, as they didn’t know what the temperature the lake was, and none of us were used to swimming with running shoes on.  Our team entered the lake at full speed, took a few steps in, and just Dove in, with a capital D.  The water felt so darn good.  But what felt better was that I, too, was having fun now.  Resentment was 100 miles away.

This swim was my last bit of exercise for the day, and it was going to count.  Instead of a low effort stroke like many were doing, I did overhand crawl, burning everything I could.

We hit the finish line and later learned that we finished in the middle of the pack.  But, I had a flash of personal growth that normally does not happen.  If history tells the truth, I would have tried to win and push through my “tweak” I would have said, “winning is everything” as it is the only way that I know.  It is what makes me successful in business and in stuff like this.  But it isn’t freeing.  It isn’t a demonstration of self-love.  It took a teammate who couldn’t do meet our standard for me to learn to slow down and try to do things right, at a rate that wouldn’t do damage.

At a spiritual level, God showed me Grace and provided for me that which I couldn’t do myself…even though I could.  I say, “Thank you for a slow companion.  It took his superficial failure to teach me some great lessons.”  To Heather and Jill, thank you for finding me and nurturing me to slow down and engage, prioritizing technique over quantity.  You two were so loud in my ears, at that moment, I would have stayed in a place of resentment, struggling to create something good from what I would otherwise have summarized as part of the consequences for having a slow teammate.  Even as I type this, I shake my head, wondering why I couldn’t have learned this lesson decades ago.

We didn’t win the race.  However, I got a life skill.  For that, I am grateful.

One thought on “Learning from a slow teammate

  1. Great blog post! You are growing so much, Jeff, and not just as an athlete. Humility beats winning all day long in my book. An individual race is different from a team race. You made the right choice and quite possibly gained much more conditioning for your Fall race than a first place medal. It is an honor to train you and travel this journey beside you. Amazing the life lessons we learn sometimes doing what we love!


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