Sticks and Steel

About ten years ago, in Hockinson, Washington, the unthinkable happened. Our family, and every neighbor as far as the eye could see, awoke one summer morning to the violating realization of a mailbox smashed in by teenage hooligans.

In a middle-class community of a few thousand white folks, this was a scandal. My father was particularly outraged, shaking his fist at the vandal’s efforts and swearing to the sky that he’d put a stop to this, one way or another. Almost as soon as Dad had the new box in place, we woke up to the sound of a baseball bat, the squealing of tires and the brutal bludgeoning of yet another mailbox.

A few weeks later, a new mailbox marked the driveway. It was a special mailbox indeed, shaped with the four walls and peaked roof of a house and painted light blue with white, heart-shaped shutters, just like the real house a few yards behind it. It even had tiny pink and red flowers adorning the two dimensional flower boxes below the window, but underneath the decorative paint of the new mailbox was its real secret. My dad had ordered a custom designed mailbox, made entirely of steel.

Every day for the next week, Dad was positively giddy, waiting for the offenders to strike again. Eventually, they did. One tiny dent on the corner of the mailbox and a few wooden splinters of a most unlucky baseball bat marked the fruit of their labor. My father was overjoyed, and claims to this day that the assailant undoubtedly drove away with a broken arm. Our mailbox was never touched again.

Upon returning from my run that day, I stopped at the mailbox and ran my fingers over the tiny depression, pondering the truth that I needed to learn to view my running from the inside out. Instead of focusing all of my energy on the talent and strength of my opponents, whether or not the race course played to their strengths or how impossible it seemed for my short little legs to cover ground at the same pace as the tall, slender gazelles I was racing, I needed to fortify what I was made of underneath my skin.

Every step I’ve taken in practice in the last 11 years, every miserable, rainy mile, every agonizing interval has been reinforcing me beneath the surface with steel. It doesn’t matter how big of a bat my opponent carries, or the strength of their arm or the frequency of the blows, as long as I have the resiliency to press on, dented but not defeated. My training hardens me. My positivity reinforces my resolve. My team and my coach fuse my flaws into armor.

About a year and a half ago when I left Zap, I thought I could make it work on my own, without a coach, without a team and without a sponsor. During that time I raced a half marathon. This past weekend, racing for Zap, even with a lackluster performance, I still would have beaten that Sarah by almost a mile. I have a great team in Zap Fitness, a wonderful sponsor with Reebok and absolutely the best coach in Pete Rea. He believes in me so much and refuses to let me believe that I will achieve anything short of greatness in the sport. And why not live as though I believe it? After all, “Where you tend a rose, a thistle cannot grow”. I want to fill my mind so completely with confidence that there is no longer room for doubt.

With a simple lesson taught by a mailbox a decade ago, I encourage you to embrace the slow process through which running is restoring and strengthening you. Do not dwell on the blows that fall but on how you may best withstand them. Let running teach you to be hearty, be strong, be steel.