The quantitative nature of running is what drew me to the sport in the first place. I stepped on the track for my first race and the moment it was over, I knew who was the best. There was nothing grey about it. It was all black and white.
We love this aspect of the sport. It’s what motivates us. Whether we’re up against our own previous best times, a time standard set by an organization, or trying to win the race. Our sport is one that can almost unequivocally answer the question of who is “better” than whom, even across decades and generations.
But this aspect of the sport can also be our nemesis.
As an Olympic sport, the greatest emphasis is always on the Olympic Games. And in this country, that means the first step is getting to the Olympic Trials qualified and healthy. Furthermore, because of the emphasis transferred to the Olympic Trials, for many of us, just qualifying and competing at the Olympic Trials have become an extension of the Olympic experience itself.
Qualifying for the Olympic Trials is one of those black and white things. There are time standards set by USATF, and you either qualify or you don’t. In nearly every other sport, there is always another excuse if you’re inclined to look for it. “Coach didn’t like me.” “The judges were too harsh.” But in running, sure, there are injuries, accidents, and lifestyle obstacles, but ultimately, the only crushing reality as to why we don’t qualify is this – we didn’t run fast enough at the right time.
While there have been so many amazing moments for the 473 men and women who qualified for this huge, seemingly life-changing event, yesterday was the crushing day after that the qualifying window closed and there are no more opportunities for 2016.
One of those people facing that harsh reality is my friend and NYAC teammate, Caroline Williams. In a text to me yesterday, after her 2nd disappointing OTQ attempt in two weeks, she wrote,
I just don’t know where to go from here. So many of my decisions were hinging on making that time, like justifying to myself that I have what it takes to contact and run for a pro team.
What Caroline meant was that she felt like she had to achieve a certain level (in her mind it was running an OTQ mark) before she even felt comfortable contacting a team and asking them what it would take for them to consider her. As I read that text, one word came to mind “worthiness.”
All of a sudden, because she was injured a few weeks before and didn’t have time to get back into fitness before the qualifying window closed, she was no longer worthy of even finding out if she could pursue her dreams. What if the standard had been set to 1:15:40, just a few seconds slower than what she had already run? (For more on Caroline’s story, click here.)
We’ve all been there, though, right? We set a goal for ourselves and then when we fall short of that metric, we feel embarrassed, sometimes even ashamed, and question what ever made us believe we could achieve it in the first place.
I can distinctly call to mind a failed pursuit of my own – top 20 at the 2012 Olympic Trials. I finished 27th and despite my solemn swear that I would quit if I didn’t achieve that goal, here I am. Still plugging away 4 years later.
I completely understand the other side, too. You just can’t take everybody, so you have to draw the line somewhere. And in fact, it is precisely the difficulty of these standards that makes qualification itself so gratifying. It’s our motivation, and it’s also our downfall.
Like Caroline, my husband, Cole has faced the same questions from a different angle. This fall, I remember being so excited because Cole and I and Ryan and Sara Hall were the only 2 married couples both qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials. It was an honor just to have something in common with that running royalty couple.
One of the things I have always admired about Cole is his innate sense of worthiness and belonging. In contrast to me, he has never once questioned whether or not he was talented enough to be great, or if it was worth giving himself a chance.
In his brave blog from last week, he shared the let-down and lessons learned from the disappointment of training for essentially one race for 6 years and not being able to make it to the line healthy.
I vividly remember sitting in my interview with Pete in 2010 as we counted ahead to 2016 when I would be 30 years old and well prepared for the marathon. I walked in the door of ZAP in 2010 as a 24 year old runner with only 2 years of training in my legs. 2016 would be great. 2016 would be the year.
On Friday, Ryan Hall announced his retirement. That same morning, Cole tried to run one last time before he finally admitted that there was no hope for him to be healthy enough to complete the trials, either. On the same day, the male half of both our OTQ duos bowed out.
And that’s what makes right now the perfect time for Camille Herron’s latest blog about her struggles as a DI runner 15 years ago. This incredible person went from getting dropped from her DI team to eventually graduating and 4 more years later, qualifying for her first of THREE Olympic Marathon Trials. And most recently she took the step up to ultra marathoning and quickly became the World Champion at 100k and 50k in 2015.
I could have given up in college and become the “dime a dozen” athletes who go by the wayside and move on with their lives… but I didn’t… because I believed deep inside of me there was something special.
What I love about running is that we are all worthy of making space for it in our lives. If running makes you happy, no amount of working hours and/or the money that comes with it are going to fill that void. If you love to run, you are worthy of taking the time for it, no matter how fast or slow.
So for those of you out there who either couldn’t qualify or won’t make it to the starting line due to injury, hopefully the process of pursuing a goal was still worth it, and if it was, then keep going. Because no one can make you “unworthy.”