The Pain of Accomplishment

Momservation: Anything worth doing comes with a price. This is an area where it’s okay to have expensive taste.

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My early track days and the reward of pushing through the pain to the accomplishment.

My early track days and the reward of pushing through the pain to the accomplishment.

It hurts to win.

And it should. It means you’ve left it all on the table to succeed.

But the pain is short-lived in the afterglow of accomplishment.

Even if that accomplishment is making and eating a batch of raw brownie mix without the kids finding out. The guilt fades—the glow of unshared chocolate stays.

I’ve always told my own kids that anything worth doing is rarely easy. It is the message I plan on sharing again this year with 100 other children.

That would be the middle school track and field athletes I will be coaching starting next week. A bunch of kids who all think they are the next Usain Bolt because no one can catch them playing tag and who think they get a trophy for just showing up.

Part of the growth process with these kids over a six-week season is moving them away from the Woody Allen train of thought that 80% of success is just showing up. The other part is that there are more events than the 100 yard dash and they can’t all be first.

After the first two meets I collect the kids who are finishing deep in the race (out of 5 million heats of 100’s) and ask, “Are you done finishing 4th, 5th, 6th? Are you ready to work a little harder, but get a better payoff now?”

And then I match them to what their natural talents are. Big, strong kid? Let’s try shot put. Fast, but short (and unable to compete with taller kids)? How about the 800 meters where size won’t make a difference to speed and endurance. Long legs—high jump or long jump. Not terribly athletic but a hard worker—the mile’s perfect. Thin competition because nobody wants to do the work of a mile.

But even if I set you up to succeed—I cannot do the work for you. Track is the same as any other sport, or any other aspect of life: You get out of it, what you put into it.

I teach these 6th, 7th, and 8th graders: Do you think Usain Bolt just gets up in the morning the fastest man in the world? No. He trains every day. He trains when he doesn’t want to train. He pushes through the sore muscles, the fatigue, the burning lungs. He’s dedicated and committed to what he wants to achieve—to be the fastest man in the world. That kind of drive to succeed comes with pain, both physical and mental. So he trains for it. He doesn’t win simply for being born Usain Bolt. He wins because he’s fought through the pain.

I tell my track kids, “You know who wins the race? Those who know how to best manage their pain. Because you’re all tired when you hit that last stretch. You’re all hitting the wall at the same place. You all want to win. The person who wins is the person who is not necessarily physically strongest, but mentally toughest. It is the person who trusts that their pain will be alleviated with the sense of accomplishment that comes from knowing that they could not have given an ounce more of themselves.”

So don’t just show up for practice. Show up to win.

And by winning I mean the pride of self-worth that you earned your place in life because you worked hard for it. Whether it’s winning the “race” or achieving a personal best, you know you couldn’t have given more of yourself. The pain endured in giving your all to get there is short lived. The euphoria of accomplishment is no match for it.

So let’s go be in pain.


  1. Chase McFadden says:

    Ah, middle school track. We always had lots of 100 runners and shot/disc throwers (assumed they wouldn’t have to run).

    It’s fun to see those kids that really lay it out there for a race and do things they didn’t know they were capable of. And then there are those other kids who just want to hang out with their friends and be part of something, and they’re fun, too.

    Good luck, Coach!

    • kellimwheeler says:

      I like that track provides an opportunity for any level of athlete to succeed – even if it’s just a personal best. The kids that want to hang out with their friends are great too (that was also me) but I want to see them surprise themselves with what they can do. That is the joy of coaching.
      And oh yeah, shot putters run too much to their dismay!

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