After over 3 weeks of reflection on the New York City Marathon, here is the most shining memory that has stayed with me:
That moment when the grand marshal truck rolled by around 22 miles into the race, with the 5 marathon Olympians watching and cheering out the back. I will never forget hearing Amy and Shalane screaming for me by my first name as they rolled by.
Just before that, Julia Lucas had been the only person on the bridge out of the Bronx, but cheered for me as though there was a crowd of screaming people surrounding her. And just after, I also heard Ben Rosario and Stephanie Bruce rooting for me with sincere excitement from the other side of the road.
This kind of unprompted support from the greater running community, especially from those who have run faster than me, is meaningful to me beyond measure.
I’ll never forget the first time it happened because it changed my life forever.
Back in the summer of 2009, I was in between my two years of teaching English in Vienna, and decided to spend the summer traveling around the US and working at high school cross country camps. One of the camps that brought me on was the All-American Cross Country Camp in Asheville, NC, which is put on by NC State staff and alums.
This was the first time I ever got to know real Olympic Trials qualifiers on a more personal level. There must have been close to 10 of them on that tiny campus. It slowly sunk in to me that these people are just that – people.
One of them was Julia Lucas. At that point, 25-year-old Julia had been out of school for 2 years. During that time, she had been with the Mammoth Track Club, where the likes of Ryan Hall and Deena Kastor were also in training. Unfortunately she had gotten injured and had been unable to compete at the 2008 Olympic Trials where her then husband, Ian Dobson, had gone on to become a surprise team qualifier in the 5000m.
Julia immediately stood out to me as a quirky, confident person with an incredibly infectious laugh, so the next morning I ventured to sit with her and Ian at breakfast. Shortly after I sat down, Julia animatedly told her captive audience about a dream she had of a polar bear and a bat. Yep, a polar bear and a bat. It was clearly very memorable to her at the time, but the only reason why I still remember it today was that in that moment, it stood out to me that this is a super fast girl, but she’s just as random and unfiltered as I am.
After a few days, somehow it came up that I had run the Berlin Marathon right out of college and I didn’t think much of it. But the next day, she sought me out and made a point to tell me this: “Esther, we looked up your time from Berlin. 2:46 is really good! You should keep running because you could be really good at this.”
What might have been a stream-of-conscious moment for her ended up being a life-changing moment for me. She with her 15:33 5k PR and her husband with his Olympic berth, were darn near running gods as far as I was concerned. These two had bothered to not only take the time to look up my PR, but then made a point of letting me know that it was good.
And here I am now, 7.5 years later, with a National Championship, US World Team, and 11th-place finish at the Olympic Trials and NYC Marathon under my belt. I’m still in awe of you, Julia, and am forever grateful for our brief encounter and its lasting impact on my life.
I have been so guilty of clinging onto this false notion that there just isn’t enough “goodness” to go around. That if I tell someone else they are good at something, that will somehow take away from the pot from which I also draw my own goodness. The notion that there is some scarcity of achievement, and that someone else’s achievement detracts from my own.
I have totally fallen subject to this line of thinking, and still fight myself from time to time, which is why it is so awesome that groups like Oiselle have taken it upon themselves to make a change in our culture.
In a recent blog from Oiselle, I saw their Team Manifesto, which lists the seven “Principles of Flight”:
Build the sisterhood. Eat like a human. Tell your story. Race with fire. Compete clean. Be a superfan. Spread the love.
Whether private or public, these expressions of support are crucial to the development of our community and the success of our sport. That’s why these two Oiselle principles are so important: Be a superfan. Spread the love.
Maybe it’s just me, but following others in the sport used to be so uncool. It was something we did quietly on our computers at home. We would look up results every weekend and delight in our former rivals’ success (and let’s be honest, sometimes in their failures), but we didn’t share our interest or proudly express our fandom. We called ourselves stalkers instead.
But thanks to the enduring hard work of organizations like FloTrack, LetsRun, RunnerSpace and AthleteBiz, in combination with the initiatives from individuals and groups like Oiselle, we are finally getting somewhere.
That’s why it meant so much to hear particularly Shalane and Amy yelling from the truck. It was a culmination of this shift that I have felt in the running world over these past few years. This sentiment of mutual support has spread right up to the top, which is the place where I believe it will really make a huge impact.
One of my greatest lasting memories from my experience at the World Championships in 2015 had nothing to do with my race. It was actually watching the giddy, giggly team dynamics of the Bowerman Track Club girls. Prior to the summer, I had caught wind of their shenanigans with Shalane from social media. I loved that this woman who I had once seen as the height of seriousness and intensity had become an incredible mentor to these young women and was still also just one of the girls.
That sense I had felt culminated in this moment, captured on film by Shalane’s mom:
The camaraderie and mutual support within Jerry’s group was only further underlined by the incredible teamwork displayed by Shalane and Amy at the Marathon Trials in February.
Why is all of this meaningful to me? Because I have not always been the kind of teammate I want to be. I have not always supported others around me in the way I would like. I want to do better, and I can’t thank these women enough for setting an example for all of us to aspire to achieve.
In The Book of Joy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains that “ultimately our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others. It’s how we are made … we are wired to be compassionate.”
The author, Douglas Abrams goes on to summarize it this way:
“The way we heal our own pain is actually by turning to the pain of others. It’s a virtuous cycle. The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others.”
So keep up the great work, guys. Let’s keep spreading the love, and sharing the joy – with each other and ourselves. And maybe someday I can do for someone else what Julia Lucas and all the other voices of encouragement have done for me.