Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Perfect Race

Every endurance athlete has their own concept of "the perfect race." For me, I cannot begin the discussion without mentioning the person who made me believe there IS such a thing as a perfect race: my high school track coach, John Klarman. Mr. Klarman was more than just my track coach (and geometry teacher). He is the reason I'm an endurance athlete. He taught me how to run. He showed me how running long distances could clear my mind. He helped remove the mental component from my training and apply science in its place. But enough about me. Mr. Klarman was also one of the winningest coaches, ever, at Orville H. Platt High School in Meriden, Connecticut. And his winning records cover multiple sports. I still look back in amazement at how he took a roomfull of awkward, naive girls and created a track team from it. A track team that went 10-0 in its second season.

I often wondered how a man whose feet were so firmly planted in the ground inspired generations of high school athletes to perform at levels that could only be described as "stellar." Like all great coaches, he understood his athletes and knew exactly how to motivate them. And he fostered true team spirit, even in track -- a sport that is inherently individual. His coaching guides me even to this day. Upon qualifying for the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials, I was asked by my hometown newspaper who was most influential. I mentioned Mr. Klarman. Looking back, it's ironic to note that, in the article, HIS fondest memory of ME just happened to be my first athletic disaster. My very first high school race -- the 400 meters -- ended in a photo finish, which I won by diving into the tape and landing face-first on a cinder track, shredding the skin on my legs and hands. The perfect race? Far from it.

I recall the pearls of wisdom he rolled out to us during track practice, after school in his classroom, or while I walked beside him "pouring" the white lines on Platt's cinder track before a meet. I always asked questions. The most important one: "Mr. Klarman, how should I run the 400?" His answer: "Jeanne, you run the first 200 meters as FAST as you can... and then... run the second 200 meters... FASTER." He always said: "Practice doesn't make perfect. PERFECT practice makes perfect." His athletes were direct beneficiaries of this wisdom. Drills. Every day. And yes, it made us better athletes -- though we didn't realize it at the time. My favorite thing? Once a year, he would take the jumpers and throwers and sit us down to watch old black & white films of athletes with PERFECT form -- in high jump, javelin and discus. This was serious stuff. And yet, he wasn't beyond having fun. Afterwards, he would run the film reel backwards, declaring, dead-pan, "now we'll watch the javelin CATCHING." As though it were a real sport. It was the same joke. Every year. We laughed. Every year.

John Klarman passed away in 2001. I wonder what he would say to prepare me for a great race at Ironman Coeur d'Alene. I suspect it would be something simple, yet profound, and said in his calm matter-of-fact voice. He always made me WANT to have the perfect race. I think that's why I do triathlon. With three sports and two transitions, there is always something to learn, always something to improve on. I do it BECAUSE I'll never have the perfect race. And it's fun. And for me, that's what being an athlete is really all about.

1 comment:

  1. John Klarman was indeed an exceptional coach, an exceptional teacher, and a great man. A master motivator both on and off the field; and someone I greatly looked up to and admired at PHS. It is sad that he has passed away; I always hoped I would get the chance to meet him one last time and thank him for everything.