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State Track: Falling Down and Learning Lessons

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

(Warning: this post contains explicit bragging about how great I was at track and field, continue at own risk. Also, let’s read this post as if it’s in the world of a soap opera and everybody is overly dramatic)

I went to State Track my senior year of high school in 2012, and was in first place when I fell over the last hurdle in the 300m hurdles championship race.

What lessons could be learned from this?


Well to answer that, we have to go back to seventh grade. It was just a few years after my brother Matty had gone to state for high jump, and I felt like I needed to reach the bar that he set (both figuratively and literally, lol). So I was at the first meet of my track career participating in high jump, my very first event. And after a performance that could only be described as a A+ for effort, I got 8th place. And I cried. I cried because I didn’t hit the expectations I had set for myself. One of the seniors on my team tried to make me feel better, saying it was just my first try, but I wasn’t buying it.


I had a plan for that day and that event and it didn’t pan out.


Well thankfully, the guy was right, I got better as I got older. Doing well in long and triple jump, pole vault, hurdles, and high jump. I looked forward to track every single year, because I was pretty good and it was fun hanging out with my friends at meets and at practice.





But it wasn’t until my junior year when things started to really take shape. It was the first outdoor meet of the year and just like every other meet before, I was running hurdles. We lined up at the starting line for the 300m hurdles, the gun went off, we jumped over some hurdles, I got first, and ran over to Coach Thompson to tell him my time.


“42.02.”


“42.02?” he asked.


“Yeah!”


“Nathan, state qualifying is 42 seconds. You missed state by .02.”


And like that a switch was flipped. I became possessed with qualifying for state.


But it was not an easy road.


My next meet I missed state with a time of 42.54. Hundredths of a second again. After that was Pembina, I once again missed by milliseconds with a time of 42.35. Frustrating. And during that race I pulled/strained the quadriceps in both of my legs. I’m not totally sure how, probably a combination of not enough stretching and the cement track there. Either way, it was extremely painful. I remember describing the pain as someone trying to pull the muscles out of my leg whenever I extended. And in the hurdles that’s pretty much all you do.


But I ran through the pain, because I wanted state more than anything. My next meet was just two days later in Langdon and I ran a time of 42.54 again. So frustrating.


Every night I would lay in an ice bath and every practice I would stretch my quads. I barely even remember running any other events that year, the 300s was all I thought about.




(please forgive the ice pun)


Coach Thompson had me sit out a couple weeks to heal up, because if I couldn’t get over that hump of a hundredth of a second, then maybe I could do it by placing at regionals at the end of the year. But nothing was worse than sitting at home and watching people get first in something you usually did. Ice baths, muscle rollers, and elastic stretching bands were my friends.


I came back for the final meet of the year, regionals. If you came in first or second you automatically went to state regardless of time. But still injured and quads hurting as bad as ever, I ran through the pain, got third; with another even more frustrating time of 43.25, and missed state (they changed it the very next year so that top 3 went to state, because of course). Thompson did have me run in the 4×1 relay that day for the second time all year and we got first and made it to state.


State was as incredible as I imagined it would be. But it wasn’t enough. We failed to place in the 4×1, but the experience was so much fun and I knew I’d be back. And thus ended my extremely disappointing and frustrating junior year of track. Did I mention frustrating?


I decided that I was going to win state for Mr. Thompson. Coach Thompson was, among many other classes, the social studies teacher, the anthropology teacher, and one of the history teachers. He was the football coach and the track coach. He’s one of the hardest workers in the school (though there’s a lot of hard workers in that school). He coached track for 20+ years and had coached many runners and jumpers and throwers to state. But no one was able to bring him home the gold. Which he deserved more than most (he did win Coach of the Year in 2011, which was awesome).


And just the fact that he was able to send anybody to state was incredible. Because our school doesn’t have a track, or a field. Mr. Thompson sets up four hurdles in the carpeted halls of our school building and we practice over those. We practice triple and long jump by jumping off the stage onto the high jump mat. And the 300s, the race I made my name in, was practiced by setting up one hurdle at the end of the long hallway. That was our only experience with these events outside of actual competition. And it is such a testament to just how great of a coach that Thompson is. He did what he could with what he had and did it better than anyone else who had more. His brilliant coaching method trains our brains and body with muscle memory. We didn’t have to practice on an actual track or field because when we would get to the meets, our brain would remind our bodies what to do.


Drive the knee, snap the leg down, drive the knee, snap the leg down.


Mr. Thompson deserved a championship the second he put a stopwatch around his neck, and I was going to give that to him.


Much of the offseason was spent looking forward to track starting up again. I remember multiple times laying in bed at night at least as early as October, imagining running the 300s, and my heart would literally be beating out of my chest. I wanted state. I wanted a plaque. And I wanted that championship.


During the winter, our school debuted our new weight room, bigger and better than it was before. Everyday after school I’d be in there. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday working on my lower body, to avoid a repeat injury. And Tuesday and Thursday working on my upper body.


And then track FINALLY started up again and I had never been so excited. I broke the indoor triple jump record for our co-op the second meet of the season. Just a small taste of what the season would bring.





Before each race of this season, I would say the same thing every single time as I got down into the starting blocks.


“Runners to your marks.”


“Feel the movement, feel the pressure, feel the movement, feel the pressure.” I would whisper to myself (a line from the song “Down” by Thousand Foot Krutch from their album “The End is Where We Begin,” an album I can’t even listen to without thinking of state track).


“Get set.”


“I can do all through Christ who strengthens me, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, I can do…”


*BANG*


Every single race. It helped me focus and concentrate and amp myself up.


And then, the second outdoor meet of my senior year, it happened. It finally happened. I raced in my main event, the 300s, and made it to state with a handheld time of under 40; coming in at 40.84 when the computer came back with the actuals.


I was flying high. I couldn’t believe it. It finally happened.





That’s one of my favorite pictures of all time. The 300s the day I qualified. No other runners in sight. And my dad looking on in the background. This was the year my dad retired from the farm, so he was able to attend every single one of my meets. And it was awesome.


Not long after that, still riding high, I lined up for the 110m hurdles. The gun went off, adrenaline pumping, I jumped over some hurdles, got first, and qualified for state in that too. I was legitimately shocked. I hadn’t even really thought about the prospect of qualifying in the 110s, my mind was always on the 300s. I was so shocked and elated and wasn’t thinking that I hugged a few of the opponents still standing on the track with me. I shouted into the air.


It felt incredible. There is nothing like winning in sports.