More than a decade ago, I used to get my ass kicked religiously at the track. It was a weekly ritual performed by one man. John executed this ritual with no remorse.
Each week, I showed up with confidence that I was getting stronger. I was getting faster. Surely, I would close the gap on him.
Without fail, John would turn me back in a seemingly effortless fashion. The evening would end with me scarred and humbled, but not entirely defeated. I still clung to the vain hope that things might change.
I just had to keep showing up. It was one of the first and possibly most important lessons I learned as a runner. Keep showing up. Good things will eventually happen.
But, my faith was wavering. John was an animal, a machine, a cyborg. Doubts crept into my mind after months of getting my ass handed to me.
I kept showing up in lieu of any other idea. I could keep him within striking distance for awhile. Then he would decide to really run and the delusional idea that I had a shot at keeping up with him disintegrated.
Months passed. Little changed. Perhaps the lesson I had learned years ago was simply a lie.
Track night came around again. I toed the line and we were off. I fought earnestly to keep John in my sights.
I kept him close, but there were still many intervals to go. I knew he was just getting warmed up and I was giving about as much as I could. This evening felt no different than any other.
The remaining intervals unfolded in a blur. Gassed and gasping, the coup de grace remained. I knew what would happen next.
The final interval started and John decided to really run. Within seconds he had an enormous gap on me. I rolled my eyes.
Here we go again. I trained my gaze on his legs. They turned over at a feverish, frenetic pace. I was doing what I could, but he seemed light years away.
I headed through the straightaway into the final lap of the evening. My coach uttered a few words, 'Go get him, Matt.'
Something happened. Buttons were pushed. I wasn't done yet.
I threw my head back and took a deep breath. John might beat me again tonight, but I wasn't going down without a fight. He would have to bleed to win.
I had 300 meters to go and he was easily 50 meters in front of me. But, it wasn't over yet. I shifted into the highest gear I could find.
I was running on fumes. I was laboring. I was gasping. But, John was getting closer.
I approached the final turn and John could hear me. He glanced over his shoulder and a look of disgust washed over his face. He knew I wasn't backing down.
We hit the final straightaway and I pulled even with him. He picked it up. So, did I.
With barely 50 meters to go, we both laid it on the line. Neither of us was willing to give an inch. The finish was just a few strides, a few seconds away.
We careened across the line in a dead heat. I hadn't beaten him. But, he hadn't beaten me.
The seed of doubt had been planted in his mind. What little hope I had to gain on him began to grow.
I would show up the following week. I would show up the week after that. I would show up every week thereafter.
I run because showing up eventually pays off...