Isn’t it funny how certain phrases from friends can stay with you over the years and even take on a life of their own, long after their speakers have left this earth. The title of this post is one such phrase and I want to tell you why it means so much to me now that I am striking out on my own entrepreneurial path.
Back in the early 80s, a fit 20-something Mark spent many damp and often cold winter evenings at the Mary Peters Athletics Track, on the outskirts of south Belfast, N.Ireland.
I was part of a small group of keen runners and the winter months were when the’money was put in the bank’, as our coach, Alf, used to say - referring to the stamina and strength we were building up for the coming summer competitive season.
There were many tough sessions during the three winters I was part of Alf’s squad, but the most excruciatingly painful were the weekly ones spent running up the ‘big hill’, as we called it, to the White House at the top. (This is in Barnett’s Park, for those who know Belfast).
The thing about this hill wasn&‘t so much it’s length (about 120 metres or so) but it’s elevation; it started off as just a gentle incline and ended up at about a 45 degree slope. At the very top, and I’ll never forget this, was a park bench! (the reason I can’t forget is that we never got to sit on it, had to get back down the hill in just 90 seconds, before the whistle went for the start of the next repetition.)
One thing you can pretty much guarantee with a group of motivated athletes is that a lot of sessions will have an element of competition to them. Especially, no one wanted the shame and banter of bringing up the rear on hill sessions. (I believe from experience that this form of competition within a group is healthy and brings out the best of its members, if managed well by the coach.)
Anyway, after about 4 or 5 hill runs, with barely time to jog and stagger back down, the body is really starting to suffer. Lactic acid waste in the leg muscles (especially hamstrings and buttocks) is very painfully evident and cannot be cleared quickly enough before the whistle goes for another repetition.
Pain and more pain.
Shortness of breath.
Dizziness, and sometimes nausea.
Such is the (self-chosen) path of the dedicated athlete. Cold ears and damp knees, from being unable to stand for a few seconds after reaching the top of the hill, and before beginning the descent back down.
During one particularly tough session, I had staggered to the top of the hill and was down on my hands and knees, wishing the ground would open up and swallow me. I knew I was at the top because I could see the glow from Alf’s cigarette not far from that park bench I mentioned earlier!
Of course the world didn’t stop and neither did my pain and general weariness. The other runners had already started their slow jog back down the hill for the final run of the evening. I was still on the ground.
No Athlete Left Behind
And then I sensed Alf’s hand on my head, as he knelt down beside me and quietly said:
Mark, You won’t get another chance till (until) next week.
That was it.
No shouting or stereotyped coaching histrionics. Of course, being Alf, he was smiling as he said this, I could hear it in his voice. Because he knew that in my knackered state I was more interested in getting oxygen into my lungs than answering him back!
He then walked back to his spot beside the park bench and I somehow got my butt down that hill, only to have it kicked soundly by the others on our final run. The others included two take-no-prisoners female athletes.
But I did finish the session.
And while Alf has long since left this physical world, his words remain to me as a memory trace of affection and lessons learned; as fresh today as they were maddeningly painful to hear back then.
You won’t get another chance till (until) next week!
What?!! Who in their right mind wants to sign up for this?
Because one day, legs and lungs will know physical effort no longer. That glowing ember in the dark’s not seen. And the whistle lies silent.