Mental Toughening

I was not prepared for the excellent and toughness I would see today.

Note to self – any – ANY time a meet will occur at Brandywine State Park, expect the unexpected. What started out as a perfect running day resembling the perfect running day two days before, where Woodbridge High School practiced and prepared for the DIAA State XC Championship at Brandywine State Park. We ended with bone-chilling shaking that reminded us that the unpredictable is always the expected and the predictable at Brandywine State Park when it comes to running.

There is much you try to do as a coach to prepare athletes for race day, and yet, this year’s WHS XC team has continued to defy those odds ad it leaves you looking back wondering how you were surprised as a coach after spending all season with these athletes.

Let’s set the scene, shall we? What looked to be a picture perfect day, turned into squalls of rain and wind that had the sound of a typhoon if you did not look around. When you did look around, the power of the winds challenged the existence of our tent even with all stakes, sides, and Brandywine rocks grounding us. This is all occurring 25 minutes before the start of the ladies DII race and we all wondered, what happened?

On the starting line, cold rain is pelting everyone seconds before the start gun, and athletes are asked to remove their already soaked coverings to be exposed to the elements even more with singlets and shorts. Not even being able to clearly SEE through their glasses or own eyes from the denseness of the rain, would usually deter most from even putting forth 1/2 of their best effort.

It was pretty much a mind and body numbing moment.

IN SPITE of these extreme odds against our ladies, at the 2 mile mark our ladies began passing people, soaked t the bone, cold, shivering, and yet they took advantage of the opportunities presented to them, alone and separated on a wet cold trail, and they passed one, then another, then another, and OF COURSE, the sun coming out on the ladies right before their finish. Seeing others stop, walk, even crying, and yet out ladies persevered and did none of these. It is rare to see the ability of athletes to dig deep on their own, when you do not see anyone from your own team to help motivate you half way through in such conditions, and yet, they did an more.

What you often cannot see or do not know is of more value than what you see or do not know. The night before, one call from one of our first year ladies came in letting me know she was sick, sick sick and so was her Mom. You always cringe when those calls come in and hope for the best. “Fluids, and rest, and more fluids!” Morning came, hour before departure, and she had to make a decision. As we pulled up she decided to come, feeling only slightly better, we grabbed Gatorade to get electrolytes on her, and along wth a second runner also not feeling the best, these odds also pitted themselves against what could have been a disaster. Instead, you had two first year runners, and four year runner who had been with us since the start of this XC program, who had visited Brandywine on that fateful, freezing day as well, and they turned out a performance that was worthy of any finish and top honor ever. They certainly took the same odds that life hands you on a daily basis and made their performance a statement of how strong mentally and physically they could be without any regrets. We could only wish for days like that – and I am confident on how they will handle adversity after seeing their grit and determined ability after this day.

When you look at the boys being surrounded by sun, at their start, yet handed a wet course, you wonder how on earth you would be able to master a course that teams from the very area Brandywine is located in run every day and you hang on. Not one single complaint made at the starting line was uttered (heck, we had SUN!)

and it took an individual as well as a team effort to bring our WHS boys team to 15th place out of 31 teams – when all odds against us were thrown our way. ON TOP OF THAT having our top runner place 15th OVERALL – huge huge achievement. That is the difficult aspect about XC – it is a team sport as well as an individual sport, as well as a perfect replica of how life hands you the hardest and yet the most rewarding moments. ON TOP OF THAT, having one of our runners represent our own Henlopen Conference, one of TWO runners to do so

– yes, on a day made for sheltering, our athletes did the opposite, they came to push through the elements and be successful. ON TOP OF THAT two of our athletes are in the running for being recognized as the two of the top 15 DIAA academic athletes in the Championship – (verdict is still out as we gather all the GPA’s in).

We have two runners that have been here since the inception of the XC program, seeing the highs and lows of their own and our struggles and achievements, new runners on the scene that daily struggle with the tasks and directions they are pulled in, and it is a complete understatement to stress how difficult it is to push all factors out of the way that are happening around you, when you step onto the starting line.

In and out of the classroom, a team is made from what can be seen, what can’t be seen, what can be prepared for, what can;t be prepared for, what is known, and what isn’t known.

I usually indeed point out specific names when specific feats of bravado occur, and yet, it seems not quite perfect to do so on this instance when there was truly not one single person that could not be granted a thank you and sense of gratitude for what they did at the DIAA XC State Championship this year. Every single athlete showed a mental toughness, a camaraderie, a resistance to odds placed against them and prevailing.

I often realize how much I carry with me when I run. I am not sure how many realize how many other runners think about this, and how much non runners realize this.

Personally, I carry aspects that got me into running from coaches that gave me the very essence of their being freely, and often not realizing they were giving me everything they had at the moment. If I am fortunate, I still get to see them on the courses as we meet again years later on the same fields we started on. in a few cases, I am at a loss to be missing these very coaches that passed on so many gems of wisdom that related to life and the run, and they are not here to see how we have taken them to reality today. We miss them and we carry them to each of our meets.

I often try to eliminate everything else that is happening in my life, and focus on the moment right in front of me, and if you let this happen as a runner, you can escape into a place that lets everything float away from you, even for just the time you are trying to whittle down right in front of you, and it is quite an opportunity that does not appear too many times.

Coaches form other teams, athletes from other teams, parents from this team and other teams, all recognizing the achievements and tribe feeling o f being a runner on a harsh day, as well as the best days. It is what binds us as XC runners.

Walking away each season is heard, but with the countless lessons that are capable of being learned, the hope as a coach is that the sacrifices, time, energy, insight, and attempts to be prepared, even when you are not, remain in each athlete as they go forward. I do believe I saw many of these aspects travel with each athlete on Saturday, and could not be prouder!

It is an honor to be part of a sport that lets you reflect on where you have been, where you are right now, and where you are headed, and have an integral part of how to change aspects of all of those from within!


About Harry Brake

Employee of Woodbridge High School, Library Media Specialist, Media crazy! :)
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