I ran 3:43.93 for 1500m at the 2000 GMC Envoy Meet in Palo Alto, CA. That is the equivalent of a 4:01.78 mile or a 4:00.39 1600 according to the MileSplit USA race conversion calculator. I really wanted to break 4 minutes that year.
The final person to qualify for the Olympic Trials in 2000 was a HS senior by the name of Ryan Hall. Yes, that Ryan Hall. 2:04 Marathoner Ryan Hall. His time that qualified him for the 2000 Olympic Trials 1500m? 3:42.70. Yup, I missed the Olympic Trials by 1.2 seconds over close to a mile. I really wanted to qualify for the Olympic Trials in 2000.
I opened my 2002 Indoor season running 4:03 for the mile. There was a 33, yup, 33 second lap in there too. Not sure what happened. Brain cramp by the field as a whole. But, I left that race and knew I was going sub 4 that season. I ran 4:03 at 4000 feet in Idaho 2 weeks later. Then I got sick. I was nauseous. I got migraines – never had those before. Sinus infection. Antibiotics. This is the week before the US National Champs. Seriously? Yes. 9th. 4:04. Two of my teammates broke 4. I really wanted to break 4 that season.
Not to worry. I was only 26. I planned on running faster. I still had 2004 too.
3 weeks before the cutoff date for qualifying for the 2004 Olympic Trials I tore my calf at the end of a workout at the Stanford Track. I wanted to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Trials too.
Have I mentioned that I lost the Penn Relays when I was in HS? I was the anchor. I had the lead. I really wanted to win that too.
Oh yeah, I got hurt during my final year at North Carolina. Had to get a shot of something in my foot the week before NCAA XC Districts so I could run. Helped the pain. Didn’t help my running. I rigged. Badly. That was my last XC race for the Heels.
Not to worry! I still had Outdoor Track eligibility!
I blew up on the last lap of my last race for the Tar Heels. A year of on again and off again training because of injuries led to a really bad last race. Really bad. I wanted to qualify for NCAA’s in the 1500m. I wouldn’t have qualified even if they used my 1400m time that day. It was ugly.
If I had run 2 seconds faster one Spring or 3 seconds faster one Winter those times would have taken me to Europe. I really wanted to race in Europe. I never got to race in Europe.
I spent years and years chasing dream after dream. Almost all of those dreams were either too fast for me to catch or simply slipped away as I lay on a table in a trainer’s office or sat on the side of a track in pain. Those goals and dreams or ridiculous attempts made me travel – Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Idaho, Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Washington, Arkansas, Canada – wherever there was a race, an opportunity, better runners, great coaches. I was willing. I just wasn’t able.
Am I depressing you? I hope not. That is not my intention. Not at all.
I am a great failure. I am a great failure and I’m proud of it.
I tried, really tried. I ran for long enough that I went from being a really talented but really lazy kid to a runner whose only real talent was really working hard. I’m proud of that too.
I never looked at myself as someone who got injured much…until I stopped running competitively and looked back at my career. And what I realized was something else I am proud of. Not so much that I got hurt a lot but that I came back from being hurt a lot.
I never stopped believing. I believed I could come back. I believed that there was another chance, another season, another race. I really thought that if I kept pounding out the miles and the work and the lifting and the little things that I would achieve everything I had set out for.
Penn. NCAA’s. Olympic Trials. Sub 4.
No. No. No. No.
Failed on all counts.
My favorite writer, Mark Twain got it right when he said,
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Twain was a stud. He got it. I bet he would have been an awesome runner. I bet he would look back at a lifetime of successes and many more failures and smile, as I do when I look back on my running career. I left the harbor. I explored this sport and in doing so explored myself.
And I had some great dreams. Some of them, many of them really, remain just that, dreams. And that is OK. Because when I think about those dreams I’m proud of myself for having the guts to have them in the first place.
Sub 4 – Olympic Trials – NCAA’s – those dreams, those harbors I wanted to reach. I never made it. Close. But I never made it. I had to run so many miles to come up short so many times.
But, you know what? Twain never said anything about other harbors. He only spoke about one harbor. The one we are docked in. The harbor that we are tied down to. The harbor that keeps us out of the ocean, keeps us from exploring the unknown, keeps us from dreaming.
Twain said that we would be disappointed by the things we didn’t do. He told us to throw off the bowlines and dare to leave this harbor and to risk failure. That risk and those failures, and there will be failures, – they are the evidence. They are the proof that we left the harbor, the safety, the crowd. Exploration occurs, dreams are realized and discoveries are usually made with failure close by but they are always outside of the harbor.
Failures, even the greatest ones, are why you can enjoy looking back on your career, not disappointed, not in the least, and enjoy the view- a view from the middle of the ocean. A view without a harbor in site.