Thoughts on the Olympic Trials
I had the privilege of being at the track and field Olympic trials earlier this month and it was an absolutely AMAZING experience. I connected with old friends and my high school coach, and it was so inspiring to see so many awesome athletes racing their hearts out. The races were exciting and fantastic, but one in particular stuck with me: the men’s 5k final.
Ten years ago I sat in a crowded banquet room and watched Bernard Lagat take the stage. I was only 16 and I was sitting with my high school cross country team at Nike headquarters, the night before we raced Nike Team Nationals at Portland Meadows. Back then, I did not really follow professional running but I knew who this man was and the fantastic records he held. We listened eagerly as he addressed the room full of the nation’s best-ranked high school teams, hoping he’d give us some drop of profound wisdom, handing us the key to success the next day.
(In the Colts Jersey – at Nike Team Nationals 2006. We took 4th overall.)
However, what Lagat told us was simple. I don’t remember Lagat’s entire speech but one part in particular stands out to me. As he stood at the podium he repeated over and over to us, never give up. No matter what, don’t you give up.
Then, this seemed almost like unnecessary advice when I had thought his speech would go in some other direction. I already knew not to give in to my demons – the ones who would inevitably tell me to slow down mid-race, to succumb to the searing pain in my quads as I tried to push faster and faster. I knew how to fight. After all, my team’s dedication and perseverance had gotten us to Nike Team Nationals in the first place, especially after losing the bid to NTN in 2005. We had been counting down the days to NTN 2006 for an entire year; we knew to never give up.
Lagat’s advice didn’t begin to ring true for me until college when I experienced injury after injury and was ready to throw in the towel. I was 21 and trying to recover from a patellar tendon surgery, which seemingly did more damage than good. It was then a surgeon told me to never run again I let the idea fester in my mind for a few unsettling days where I felt like I had completely lost myself. On a whim, I decided to look through a bunch of old photos from NTN to relive my “glory days” one last time. Photos from the banquet popped up and I remembered.
Don’t you ever give up.
Lagat’s simple message, which I could not identify with as a 16 year old, suddenly seemed clear. I started cycling, swimming, and strengthening again, and eventually I started running again. Four triathlons, two half marathons, two marathons, and countless road races later, I couldn’t be happier with my decision to keep running, even with the ups and downs caused by the arthritis in my knee, health issues and several other injuries. These days, even when I’m at my worst, giving up is never an option.
Last week, as I watched Lagat win the Olympic Trials 5k things seemed to come full circle for me. For those of you who don’t know, Lagat is 41 years old and his race made me feel ALL the emotions. Ten years ago Lagat told me to never give up, and it was incredibly inspiring to watch him take his own advice and prove he is still a force to be reckoned with. He ran his last lap in 52 seconds.
After Lagat’s race he mentioned his much younger training partners down in Tucson and said again, “…I don’t give up. I train hard with them. What you saw today is exactly what we do in Tucson.”
I went for a run on Pre’s trails after the 5k to let loose my pent up energy. It was a cool evening and absolutely perfect for a run compared to the swamp heat and mugginess I’ve been dealing with in DC. My feet felt light beneath me and for once, my body didn’t seem to fight me. I watched the sun set across a golden field as I pushed the pace too quickly and the whole world seemed quiet. On the trail it was only me and the chattering of birds settling in for the night, my soft footsteps hitting the packed woodchip path, and the inhale and exhale of my breath. Running along the Willamette River I watched the last rays of sunlight sparkle on the water’s surface and I was filled with hope.
For so long now, on a certain level, I’ve accepted defeat with my running. Until the trials I was resigned to the fact I will never be fast again or be able to truly train. But so many of the athletes I watched race had these incredible stories full of resilience, patience and determination. But Lagat’s race gave me much needed hope, and was a gentle reminder to heed his simple advice.
Never. Give. Up.
So I won’t. And getting back into shape won’t be easy, but at least I’m willing to give it my all now.
© Allison Donaghy 2016 All Rights Reserved