Saturday, June 18, 2011

How to Train Fleas!

When I was a young banker in Tennessee, I had the opportunity to hear a luncheon talk by the then head coach of the University of Tennessee football team, Bill Battle.  At that time, Coach Battle was the youngest head football coach in the nation and lead the Volunteers to a 59-22-2 record while the head coach.  Coach Battle was known as a really inspiring leader and field coach . . . but his recruiting skills were a little suspect.

Coach Battle started off telling everyone present he was going to teach us all something that probably no one in the room knew how to do but him.  He was going to teach everyone how to train fleas!

He ask for a show of hands for everyone that already had learned this skill and not a person raised their hand.  Coach Battle promised us this new skill would be a much more valuable skill then anyone would ever believe.  And he was right!

To start the flea training process is really quite simple and you really only need two things: 1) a glass jar with a lid (like a Mason jar or a clean, mayonnaise jar), and 2) a bunch of fleas.  New in East Tennessee we knew how to come up with an empty Mason jar but the coach never told us the best way to gather up a bunch of fleas.  Anyway . . .

Training begins when you put the fleas in the jar, put the top on the jar, shake the jar up  and the set it down on a table.

Believe me the fleas will be upset.  And they'll want to get out of that jar and go find some nearby dog to jump on!  These fleas will be jumping hard, trying to escape.  A flea can jump over 7 inches in vertical height and 13 inches in horizontal length!  These jars are only about 6 inches high.  So when the flea jumps to escape he (or she as the case may be!) will bang his head on the jar top!  I would imagine this would hurt!  And every time the flea jumps . . . BANG against the jar top . . . more pain!

But eventually each flea, for one reason or another, won't jump their full 7 inches one time.  They jump but just not as high and this time they don't hit the jar lid and thus no pain! 

Now fleas probably aren't all that smart!  But even a stupid flea can pretty quickly learn that if you jump as high as you can, it hurts.  But it you jump just a tad less high, there is no pain!  Simple!

So eventually, every flea is still inside the jar jumping hard, trying to escape . . . just not their full 7 inches!  At this point you can take the top off the jar and the fleas, while continuing to jump, won't jump out of the jar!

Vol la!  You have just trained the fleas!

Each flea is totally convinced he (or she!) is trying to escape just as hard as he can.  But he's wrong!  There WAS a barrier, but it's no longer there!

Obviously, Coach Battle was trying to tell us that the banking establishment would put barriers in front of each of us . . . maybe unintentional or maybe even intentional.  But either way, we needed to keep trying just as hard as we can all the time.

Coach Battle warned each of us young banker to not become trained fleas.  And I've tried to remember this lesson all my life.  But I can't tell you how many times I've found that I had been trained and didn't even realize it!!.  And I bet we all have.  And maybe we've even trained a few fleas of our own!

Last night I just realized that I have been taking the easy way out in my training.  Focusing on really long distances but avoiding the pain of interval and hill training.  And I haven't been progressing.  I've fallen into a complacency with my running and I have no one to blame but myself.  I need to do better.  Mediocre results are not a problem, but I should NOT be accepting my mediocre efforts.

But don't get me wrong.  There are parts of my running where I am definitely NOT a trained flea.  I have taken off the blinders about how far someone can run.  I don't just run races where I'm pretty sure I can finish and do well in.  I'm willing to try something that seems virtually impossible and where in all likelihood I will fail.  And I've failed plenty!  While a DNF is not a good thing, my friend Jim Plant tells me "any DNF is way better then a DNS."  And he is right!

But I'm not happy with the fact that I'm a trained flea.  And I'm going to work a little harder and be a little more varied in my running.

My challenge to each of you (and me too!) is to find out what areas in your life that you have become a trained flea.  And then do something about it! 

It's never too late for us to jump!


  1. Great post Frank! Very inspiring.

    Does this mean you are going on a 5k circuit?

  2. Very nice and inspiring !! I know cutting back the days i train but making each day more intense has helped me a lot. I took that advice from savage and def helped me. Good Luck!!!

  3. Love it! It occurred to me that people who do 50 and 100 mile races [just for fun] would be the equivalent of fleas who don't learn, but continually bash their heads against the lid!

  4. Love it!!! Get out there and mix up your jar!!

  5. I really think you have it in you, The will power is there just stay on that training and never give up!!

  6. Acknowledging that we have been trained is half the battle. Next time out I will remember to push to the next tree rather than the closest tree. Thank you for the story and it is so accurate.

  7. I LOVE this post. It is so motivating. I am going to show this to my students!

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Littleton, North Carolina
World's Slowest Runner . . . well, at least in contention for the honor. Just your average "below average" runner.