The power of running as it applies to Olympians and mere mortals
Like thousands others, I watch the Olympic marathon trials with excitement this past weekend and had no idea what I was about to witness.
The men’s race had excitement and some drama as Galen Rupp surged at the end, seemingly effortlessly to win his very first marathon while the 40-year-old Meb Keflezighi, like a Cinderella story, cruised into second place to earn his third trip to the Olympics.
But the women’s race. Oh my goodness – that women’s race. I have never felt as many emotions watching a race; not the production of a pre-recorded event like the NBC recap of the IronMan, when they tell you all the inspirational stories and you cheer for the underdog to cross the line before the clock strikes midnight. This drama and emotion came from watching not only strength encourage but teamwork and heartbreak. And in rehashing the race, the more I think about it the more I think we witnessed universal truths in endurance running this weekend.
I think for me the most striking part is that I realized that though it is an individual sport – and it can be very lonely to race — teamwork, teammates, supporters and coaching all are part of each race experience. With those themes being universal to all athletes, I saw myself in the top four finishers at the race. Not because I’m in Olympic hopeful – obviously, but because I have a experienced everything that I saw unfold.
To recap quickly for those who did not see it live, two teammates Shalane Flanigan and Amy Cragg turned the race into a two women show – leaving the pack behind and running together seemingly effortless, like a training run they would do in preparation for the race. There was several contenders vying for the 3rd place finish, the final qualifying spot for the Olympic team. Two of those women were Desi Linden and Kara Goucher who were left to run their own best race and resist the urge to run with Shalane and Amy who looked to be on their way to clear victory.
And then it happened. Around mile 23, I noticed that Amy was talking to Shalane a lot. I noticed that Amy was taking wide turns on the course, allowing Shalane the inside lane. I noticed Amy took 2 water bottles off the aid table, opened one and handed it to Shalane. I noticed Amy spotting behind her to see where the competition was.
Shalane was struggling.
I am Shalane in the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon. As I ran together with my sister, happy to be together but with no promise to sacrifice our own personal goals for each other, Nora stuck with me until she needed to go and I kept my own pace, and battled my own demons until the finish. It’s the only time in my racing career that I literally needed to tell myself “one foot in front of the other’ to get to the finish line.
Amy saw Desi coming up on her and Shalane and she had to make the decision to run her race and leave her training partner behind.
I am Amy in the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon when my training partner Jeanne knew I had more in me than she had to give on that day and encouraged me to go ahead and run my race. I ran away from her feeling sad that we weren’t together and also knowing that I had trained for my own personal goals and went ahead to chase them down.
In the last mile, Desi passes Shalane but can’t catch Amy so Desi takes second place.
I am Des at the 2012 Lake Placid Ironman. Watching others go faster than me and wanting to go with them but knowing I have my own race and my own strategy to implement. I race my race knowing that you never know how anyone is feeling and that good days and bad days happen to everyone, I keep my spirits high and run my race claiming my own victory at the end knowing I gave it my all and stayed with my plan.
Amy finishes first. Raises her arms, adjusts her running brief and immediately turns around to look for her teammate and friend coming around the final corner. Shalane finishes third and crosses the line into her friend’s arms and collapses.
Finally, in 4th place, comes Kara Goucher. Her tears are falling even as she heads down the finisher’s chute. She has given her all and it’s not good enough to qualify. Clearly it’s hard to be both proud of your best effort and disappointed by the near miss at an Olympic slot. And the only social media photo Kara posts is her holding her son – claiming it’s all about perspective.
I am Kara as I have fallen short more times than I care to count. I have given my all and though I should have been elated with everything I accomplished, the immediate feeling is just defeat. And then my biggest fans surround me, remind me of all that it is good in this world and I know that in the game of life, this is winning.
I am no Olympian. I am not in the same league as Amy or Shalane or Des or Kara. And yet as an athlete, at any level, we can see ourselves in these brave athletes who put everything they have been working on for months, years, lifetimes, on the line. Thank you to all those who raced in the Olympic Marathon Trials. Your courage, bravery, victory and defeat were greater gifts than you know.