I love the summer Olympics. I always have. As I child gymnast I fantasized about winning Olympic Gold. There’s even a book I wrote in elementary school which tells the story of my brilliant Olympic gymnastics career (I even came back and won Gold after having children!). Despite years and years of competitive gymnastics, it was clear that this was not my path to glory. As a teenager I began to race sailboats. I won Girls Champs of Long Island Sound in the late 1980’s and raced during all 4 years of college. My parents and I briefly discussed the idea of pursuing an Olympic Campaign in sailing but the prohibitive cost, combined with medical school acceptance letter, put that dream to rest.
And yet it was neither of the sports which gave me dreams of Olympic medals that most held my interest this summer. I have been following the paths of the American marathoners. I “watched” the Olympic Trials for both the men and women via twitter feeds. I follow several of the marathoners on Twitter and I’ve read several articles about these remarkable men and women before watching the event. This is a first for me. While I have watched parts of the NYC Marathon both live and on tv and I recall glimpses of Olympic marathons past, I’ve never followed the event as closely as I did this year. And what a year to follow!
For those who didn’t follow the marathons this year, I’ll give me brief but unofficial summary. The women’s race was incredibly tight with an Ethiopian woman beating out a tight field for a gold while setting an Olympic record. Two American women finished tenth and eleventh. When Kara Goucher crossed the finished line, she helped her friend Shalane Flanagan up off the ground and they walked together arm in arm. Such an incredible image of friendship and sportsmanship. The men’s race was as interesting. Watching the Ugandan man win the only medal for his country was such a joyous experience. Although 2 of the 3 Americans didn’t finish, the incomparable Meb Keflezighi came back from the mid-teens to finish 4th. What an inspiration he is! A refugee to the USA who became a citizen and is a 37 year old father who expresses humility and gratitude every time he speaks.
And so what did this teach me?
I saw the obvious lessons about drive and perseverance. Sportsmanship and friendship. All those wonderful Olympic lessons. And I will remember that when I’m at mile 20. One day after running a half marathon.
What I really learned is that I’m slow. Not slow in the way that my competitive friend meant. I mean I’ve already become faster in the past 2 months since I started ecoaching. I could probably run a 2:30 half marathon now. And I expect that I’ll run a 5:30 or better full. In another year or 2 I might even reach a sub-5 hour marathon. And someday I might dream of a 2 hour half. So what’s my point?
The Olympic marathoners are finishing a full marathon in a time faster than my dream half. My friend who thinks a 4:30 marathon is ok but not a 6 hour one? What’s the difference? We’re no where near the top anyway. The time difference between me and a 4:30 marathon is less than the time difference between a 4:30 marathon and an Olympic pace. Which really means that the vast majority of us are slow – at least relatively speaking – and that’s really ok with me.
The irony of all of this is that my ecoach is a former Olympian himself. A one-time elite marathoner. Who takes pride in helping snails like me and turning us into faster snails. Without judgment. So it’s the faster than mid-pack but far from elite runners who are most likely to judge. I think. But maybe, in the spirit of the Olympics, we should just cheer each other on and not judge. At all. Because I’ll never run as fast as Meb but I most want to emulate his spirit and enthusiasm and smile.