Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Blogaday 18 of 20

Day 18. Exceedingly close. I'm entirely almost there. Do you know how far this has come? From a project that wasn't even sure it was starting on the first day, it's become pretty hefty. Much thanks to Nate for the encouraging comment the first day that made me want to definitely do it. It's been a good adventure. And, more than anything, it's done some catapulting.

I talked about it last night, but this blog was built on redundancy, so we shall reemphasize. I feel like my life is ready to take a shift from surviving senior year to really dominating my senior year.

It was no secret that the past two weeks of my life had been some of the more confusing and difficult for me in recent history. No tragic emotional or physical or even mental accidents. I just wasn't getting the sleep I needed, and felt like I wasn't really in control of my life. It was hard to wake up, hard to go to sleep, and hard to make it to school. I wasn't operating at peak efficiency, so I was missing opportunities like crazy. It just wasn't the way I wanted to be running the race.

And I really am reminded of a race when I look at my life right now. It feels like an old 5k last cross country season. I was all dressed up, ready to run. I was surrounded by people I genuinely cared about and wanted to see succeed, and I know they felt the same way about me.

The race would start, and I'd get out there and be strong for the first couple k's. The middle was always the hardest. I'd get tired, it'd get really hot or really cold. The legs would hurt, the lungs would burn. I'd be fighting a mental battle with myself. I'd have to convince myself that it wasn't too much farther, that I'd come this far already, and that throwing it away would be criminal. I'd think about how much my lungs were dying, how incredibly futile this whole race was. I'd remember all the hours I'd spent that week training for the race, and I'd think of how amazing it'd feel to win it. Loads goes through your head during the middle. Sometimes you speed up, and sometimes you slow down. Invariably, it's the most trying part of the race.

Sometimes, in a race, I'd never transition out of the middle mentality. I'd finish the race in the middle. Those were sad races.

But when I could really make the jump between being in the middle of the course to being in the final 1000 meters, final 2000 meters, or final however-far, then things started to get crazy. Suddenly the race changed from a trial in endurance and self-deprivation to an opportunity. Suddenly, I only had a thousand meters left to prove my manhood, to prove my school's manhood, to prove coaches manhood and Kirt's manhood and everybody else's manhood that had helped me along the way. Take that Parrish!

I remember so many footraces, looking at the end of the line, where I knew that I had to go like crazy if I was going to beat this guy before we crossed the line. I knew that once that line was crossed, I'd have absolutely no opportunity to redeem myself for seven more days. If I truly was going to beat him, I'd have to do it in the next 60 seconds.

One of the main differences between the middle of the race and the end of the race is your mindset. The middle of the race is an exploratory time period. Your mind cycles through how much you hurt, wondering why you run, thinking about your position in the race, thinking about your team mates, thinking about your homework, thinking about the ladies, thinking about the weather, thinking about your hydration and blood-sugar and fruitsnacks in your sock. Your mind is everywhere.

The end of the race is entirely different. As soon as you catch that one thought that will catapult you from middle of the race to end of the race, you're gone on the wind. As soon as the race changes from a punishment to a vanishing opportunity, your brain tosses out the flak. You are immediately consumed with only one thought. Everything else really becomes unimportant. In a footrace, the only thought going through your brain is "Gotta go. Gotta go. Gotta go. Gotta beat this kid. Gotta go. He's moving, I gotta move. He's picking it up. Can I make it? Yeah, I can get him. Gotta go. Do it. Push it. Move those legs. Gosh this feels good. Do it. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. GO. GO. GO. GO. GO."

Your brain starts thinking and subvocalizing in rhythm with the pounding of your legs and the musical rushing of your breath. Every part of you comes together to push. There really is nothing in the world that I've ever experienced that compares to that final push. It's incredibly difficult to get there. In all my races, it happened less than half the time. It took an incredible amount of activation energy to make it happen. I'd have to run 4000 meters strong or it'd never be worth doing. I'd have to have a challenge, a reason for running. And then I'd have to make the choice. My body would be tired and tight and oxygen-starved. It took monumental courage to make that choice. Knowing full well the current state of affairs in my body, I'd have to say, "Yeah, I can do this. This kid is mine." and go for it.

And I'd loosen up, let the legs start flying. Full strides. I'd get into the rhythm with my breath and thoughts and arms and everything. After a few strong paces, subvocalization in my brain would cease. There wouldn't even be words up there anymore. Sometimes I'd hear my breathing, other times there would be a numb sort of burning purpose. The knowledge that what I was doing was incredibly important to my past and present and future, and that everything else could wait. I'd become united as a whole, hurling myself with speed that wasn't measured or planned or worked on. This wasn't something that could be taught or trained during practice. It was purposeful, and that was the key. I knew my limits. I knew exactly how long until the race ended. I knew the state of my body. I knew the breaking points of my competitors. I knew how strong my heart was. It was a conscious choice, to throw prudence out the window and hurl myself towards the line, regardless of the damage to skeletal structure and internal organs I felt I was receiving. My pain didn't matter; I had something I had to accomplish.

The key to activating the end of race moment was, for me, to be in a position where it would truly be worth it. If I had run a slow race up to that point, I knew that inflicting the punishment of the end race wouldn't prove anything. I'd still be slow, I'd still be a coward for the first half of the race. If I came to that crucial decision making point, and I found myself miles behind the next competitor, I wouldn't enter end-race, because it wouldn't be worth it to me.

The chance to enter end-race was forged weeks in advance. If I showed up to race well rested and motivated, I'd have a shot at it. I'd have to get out and bust my heart open to put myself high enough in the rankings to make hammering my body to pieces give me the ascension I deserved. I'd have to be hydrated, and there could be no chance my bloodsugar was low. I'd have to be emotional and mentally in that race. I couldn't be distracted.

Above all, I couldn't have any excuse. If there was any reason, any one, small, tiny way for me to get out of end-game and not feel terrible about it, I would find it during middle-race, and end-race would never ever happen. "I'm too tired. I might be low. I'm severely dehydrated. I stayed up doing homework. I've got more important things. I'm so far back, there's no pride anywhere anymore." It was easy to find a way out of it.

But when the stars aligned because of the work I had put in, that's when I truly became proud of myself. It took, as I've said, a monumental amount of activation energy to get there. But once I was there, there was absolutely no turning back. Once it happened, it happened. Glory was my reward. There was no question. If I reached a true end-race, it never mattered how I finished. It didn't matter if I caught the kid or not. If I was to the point where I was willing to sprint in, ignoring my body for the desires of my spirit, then I knew I wasn't weak. I knew what I had done was significant. I knew that I was strong.

And if the entirety of my educational career has been a race, now is certainly the time to enter end-race.

I have suffered through the middle-race doldrums. My mind has been to the moon and back, searching for an excuse not to put myself through what I know ought to be coming. I haven't found one good enough.

For the past 12 years I've been working hard to put myself in a position where what I do in the next five months will matter. Twelve long years to work on placement. If maybe just once, I had called it off, let myself fall back down the ranks, I could say right now that I wasn't in position to enter end-race, that it wouldn't matter. But I haven't. I am at perfect placement. I have 12 years of effort to put me here, to give me this opportunity. I can't throw 12 years away.

I am physically fit and able to perform the labor required to sustain an end-race experience. Sleep notwithstanding, I have no excuse that would disqualify me from brutally and wholly finishing this race.

The stars are aligned. Every factor has been carefully placed. I am ready to run.

So what does this mean for me? What does it mean once we step away from the metaphor? It means that I am going to give myself wholly to excellence, no matter the cost. It means that I will, without a doubt, five the BC calculus test. It means I will, for sure, get this Micron application in. It means that I will give myself wholly to being the seminary council president I can be, to making PLC fly higher than ever, to being there for those who need me. It means I'm going to be a better madrigal. I'm not going to hold us back. It means that when I play basketball, I will go for the gold, every time down the court. It means I'll keep the 4.0, no matter what comes my way. It means I'll stay up just a little bit later reading. It means I'll get up just a little bit earlier, because I'm going to be on time.

End-race means the flawless transition from one obstacle to the next, till their might as well not be any obstacles. No time to consider the cost of putting one foot, flying, in front of the other. You simply do it, every time. Every obstacle and everything that stands in between you and victory is systematically and boldly eliminated. There is no fear, there is only the true and free run for the finish line.

Will I fail? Often, yes. But at the end of the day, I am going to feel good about what I've done. I am going to finish high school flying. Yeah, I will be late to class again. I will mess up. But I'm going to take it. I'm going to accept it and hurl on. Launching myself with full purpose towards excellence.

Middle-race is over. It served its purpose.

End-race. It's on.

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