A favorite hat I wear is that of running coach. For six months out of each year (6th year in a row now), I play a part in training people how to successfully cross a marathon finish line. These six months of training are some of the best months of each year. Each team is different. Each year I worry that it won’t be as special as the previous year’s. Each time, I’m mistaken.
While it is my “job” to assist with all that goes into running 13.1 or 26.2 miles, each year I am the one who learns the most. That I’m sure of. Training schedules, track workouts, hydration, running nutrition, form, shoes, clothing, toe nails, rest days, socks, etc. top the list of coaching points. Surely I couldn’t do this without some of the most supportive mentors around!
But, throughout our training season, I’m the student too, acquiring far greater knowledge than I offer. From each person I learn about dedication, goal setting, perseverance, determination, schedule juggling, strength-mental and physical, people supporting people they just met, kindness, in essence I witness the power of the human spirit. These amazing runners allow me to be part of their lives. Each one comes with a life story. Many share these stories, each one always unique, and I’m always honored to listen.
I hear of disappointment, sadness, uncertainty, milestones, and celebrations! I’ve heard disappointment about being too sick to participate in a 20 mile run. Now that’s determination. I’ve witnessed tears from people who are injured and may not be able to achieve a goal. I’ve witnessed time management at its best as people juggle young families and aging parents, active schedules, contract negotiations, work commitments too numerous to name, family gatherings including Thanksgiving and Christmas, all the while trying to be there for everybody who place demands on their time. Factor in training for a marathon, and it’s clear to see the high level of commitment that is the norm for this team.
Our “scheduled” training culminates with smiles, tears of joy, cheering families, flowers, blisters, sore feet, tired legs, and the greatest sense of satisfaction at the finish line where the coveted medal is finally placed around each person’s neck. But, the training doesn’t usually stop here. I am again full of admiration for each runner as they immediately set new goals. You see, the training really doesn’t end at the finish line. It’s really the start of more new and great adventures.
Each year my life is enriched with new friendships and knowledge gleaned from the team. Even though I’m the “coach” on record, it is truly me learning and growing from remarkable people, now friends. While I’m the “coach” in reality, I’m the student. Another hat I enjoy wearing.
We refer to our team as geese. Do you know the story of the geese?
When you see geese heading south for the winter, flying in a “V” formation, you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.
People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily, because they are travelling on the thrust of one another. When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front. If we have the sense of a goose, we will stay in formation with those people who are heading the same way we are.
When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.
It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs, whether with people or with geese flying south.Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
What message do we give when we honk from behind?
Finally – and this is important – when a goose gets sick or is wounded and falls out of the formation, two other geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or until it dies; and only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with their own group.
If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.