Friday, April 23, 2010

"You Are Better Than You Think You Are..."

...were the words I spoke to one of my JV lacrosse team captains last week. She had played the entire 50-minute game--which we lost--without a substitution, and she was dragging out there. She never asked to come out of the game, but one of her teammates was concerned and whispered to me on the sidelines, "Mrs. Speidel, Susie (not her real name) needs to come out---she's tired." After the game, I spoke with Susie and quoted the famous words from the Leadville 100: "You're better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can." She looked at me and nodded. She got it.

My life passions as a school counselor, lacrosse coach and ultrarunner intersected beautifully at that moment. It usually happens a few times a season and I am grateful each time, as it inspires me and reminds me how much I love what I do all day. I am blessed that I get to wake up each morning to run on trails while the sun is rising, then go to work with students and colleagues whom I adore, and coach the sport that defined me for so many years...and continues to challenge me. When I can bring them all together, and it works, I am giddy.

Today was a day like that. We are at the point in our lacrosse season where we have won some good games and lost some tough ones, and the girls were struggling with the feelings that come from losing more than winning. After an undefeated season last year, it has been hard for this group to experience losing. So it was time for a practice that would shake us out of the doldrums of this long season of ups and downs and bring us together as a team. My inspiration? The Barkley Marathons, of course.

Regular readers of this blog know that lately I have been on a Barkley kick. But this is nothing new. My assistant coaches and players from past years know all about the Barkley, as I have subjected them to "mini-Barkleys" over the years with a lot of fun times looking for missing books and easy trail running. But this year I was determined to challenge the girls to a real-deal "almost Barkley" complete with 4 books with ominous titles, 2+ miles on rugged trails, and a map not drawn to scale. In other words, I wanted to remind them that they are "better than they think they are" and in the process introduce them to one of the great ultramarathons.

So, this morning my assistant coach Kelsey (also an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School) and I planted the four books around Observatory Hill, which is behind our school and has a wonderful trail system. My favorite book title was "Why Aren't They Screaming?" so we placed this book atop our own version of Rat Jaw (a tough climb at the real Barkley). The other books were placed on the ledge of an abandoned well, under a dilapidated bridge, and in a tree. The girls assembled after school and were placed into three groups which were each led by a coach with a cell phone. Each group had a map that I drew from memory and were given specific instructions to stay together and help one another find all four books. They had to rip a page out of each book corresponding to their group number, and then return to the start/finish with all four pages. The first group back with all four pages was the "winner" and would receive our congratulations...nothing more. Just like at the Barkley.

The groups were a mix of freshmen, sophomores and juniors, new and experienced players, runners and some not-so-into running. The goals of this exercise were to introduce the students to the natural beauty of the trails near our school, to have fun (and get fit) as a team while striving for a common goal and while working together to achieve it, and to discover who, while working with others in a small group, emerge as natural leaders and who prefer to follow. My group was made up of a junior and two freshmen. They followed the map carefully, considering each option but always deferring to the junior (who is also a captain). As a result, they were able to find all four books without losing the trail. I was impressed with how my group asked one another for ideas and suggestions and no one emerged as the only "leader"---instead, they all gave their input and then came to consensus.

Here are a few photos of our version of the Barkley:

Finding Book 1 under the bridge

Looking for Book 2 near the old well

Working together to figure out the where the next book was hidden

Finding Book 4 at the powerlines

The second-place group running uphill to the finish

Kelsey's coon hound, Scout, added Barkley mystique to the day. The Barkley was inspired by James Earl Ray's escape from Brushy Mountain State Prison. It took him 3 days to cover 5 miles of treacherous terrain before being doubt with the help of hounds like Scout.

The other two groups had some difficulty following the map and got off the trail a few times, but each group finished safely with all four pages, and then we went out for ice cream to celebrate.

As we were running back, one of my students commented, "I would feel badly for the person who couldn't finish the Barkley in under the cut-off time after all that hard work. But I guess that's the risk you take, right?"

"Some people "get" the Barkley. Some don't.
But the Barkley is all about leaving the comfort zone.
The Barkley is about taking our chances with failure.
True success is not the absence of failure,
It is the refusal to surrender."

--Lazarus Lake, Barkley Race Director


SteveQ said...

I know guys who've tried the Barkley (of course, no finishers among them). It's so much less impressive if you think of it as a bunch of guys wandering out in the woods and having a cookout, which is what most of them do.

"Why Aren't They Screaming?" Now, THAT'S a title!

meredith said...

What an awesome experience you created for your team. Brilliant! It is a life lesson they will not soon forget...maybe just like running and ultra :)

Rick Gray said...

Now that is some team bonding. Sounds like you have a wonderful group of young ladies. Now they have experienced just some of the love you have for the mountains!

Neal Jamison said...

Nice! I will do something like that with my workout group. Great post Sophie!

Marlin Yoder said...

Now I understand why the girls on your team came all the way out to Grindstone to see you finish last year. They're lucky to have you as their coach!