I was asked for some “words of wisdom” from an athlete who completed a 100km race and finished in the bottom third of the racers. He’d felt good about his performance until he saw his time amongst the rest of the finishers. Back of the pack.
While “words of wisdom” are a reach, this is the kind of conversation I love. Truth be told, I love thinking about the “Why” much more than the “How” as a coach. So here’s some of what I wrote instead of my “How” from Bandera. (I will do that!)
My young belt-buckle-wearing friend,
You finished. You ran 62 miles over one of the most technical courses in the United States. I haven’t seen the official DNF numbers, but they’re not small. You did what many people tried and couldn’t. You did what most people wouldn’t even try. It’s easy to underestimate your accomplishment when you compare yourself to an exceptional group.
“You graduated from Harvard Medical School? Wow!”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t at the top of the class.”
Speed. Running fast is fun. You finish races earlier and people heap lots of praise on you. But speed, in and of itself, is meaningless. “She was a fast runner,” is not how I hope my eulogy opens. That said, running fast is a hugely worthwhile goal if the process makes you tougher, more resilient, tenacious, conscientious, courageous, patient, compassionate, and joyful. Speed is easier to measure than these characteristics, but it should only be valued to the extent it reflects them. When increased speed reflects effort and hard work, and not just talent, it should be celebrated.
Last, remember that one race time does not define you or your potential as a runner. It is one measure of your current fitness, which is affected by your training and a slew of other stressors in your life. My fastest time at Bandera was 9:35 about 4 or 5 years ago. The first year I ran, I was hours slower. A couple of years ago, I ran something close to that slower time again. This year, I ran 10:00. If I’d let my slower performances at Bandera decide my potential as a runner, I never would have enjoyed the running successes and adventures I have between then and now. What you believe about your potential affects that potential greatly. Try not to be frustrated with your current level of fitness — because you can change it.
(Apologies for the soap box, but it’s so hard not to jump up on one when it’s actually put on the ground in front of you.)