5 Inspiring Lessons from Olympic Trials Qualifiers, for Running and Life

Were you as inspired as I was by our profiles of Olympic Trials qualifiers? Reading through them, I found some common themes that make these women — and hundreds of other amateur and professional runners I follow on social media — so inspiring. It sounds cheesy, but these takeaways aren’t just for running, they’re for life.

Love what you do.

If you’re gonna spend hours every week, often before dawn, testing your body to its limits? You better love what you’re doing. Roberta Groner stressed the importance of drive, passion, and love: in college, she lacked all three, and didn’t run for ten years afterward. Now, her 100 mile weeks are fueled by her love of the marathon. Allison Macsas advises us to stop running if we feel burned out and like we don’t really want to. Macsas says “The desire will come back, and you will come back — most likely faster.” It sounds banal, but without love of the sport, why bother? Isn’t life too short?

Dream big, and, as Des Linden puts it, “keep showing up.”

“Set a goal but be patient,” says Groner, who took over ten years to reach her current level of competition. Similarly, Teal Burrell has been “chiseling” at her marathon time for years, whittling it down from 4:07 in 2005, to her current PR of 2:39:08. None of the women we profiled just waltzed their way to an Olympic Trials qualifying time, they kept working until they made it. Burrell also emphasized that sometimes you can make major gains in a training cycle that don’t show up in your race times for whatever reason — weather, a tough course, or a general bad day. Your hard work will pay off eventually, just maybe not when you want or expect it to.

Definitely something to keep in mind next time I’m frustrated that not every single race is a PR, and not every workout the best one ever.

You can’t do or have it all, and that’s OK.

The whole concept of a “morning routine” has been polluting my social media feed for quite some time, and this is what it tells me about finding success as a woman: a) You can “have it all!!!” b) You should want to “have it all” c) Having it all is a desirable thing, and d) if you don’t have it all, it’s probably just because you’re not getting up early enough, you loser. All you need to do is set your alarm for 3 a.m. and you can have it all with a side of hot lemon water. As if we’re all not tired enough already? No thanks.

But if we look at our Trials qualifiers — a highly competent, goal-driven and accomplished set of women — what we find is that actually, you can’t. You can’t always juggle grad school, jobs, family, and a high-level training routine complete with strength training, chiropractor visits, a core routine, and enough sleep to function. And that’s OK. It’s all about identifying what’s important right now, and knowing that your priorities can change down the line.

“I know that I have a finite amount of willpower, so I use it to the best of my abilities,” says Emma Kertesz, whose running took a back seat to academics during her time as a master’s student in early childhood education. Kertesz says, “I do a lot of prioritizing, and recognize that there will be some days where there aren’t enough hours in the day. So, it’s not really a balancing act but more of a ‘I can focus on this right now, and this other priority may have to go on the back burner’.”

Similarly, Erica Kirkwood says, “I think the key for me is to be intentional about how I am spending my time.”

Allison Macsas exemplifies this approach: she owns a travel business and was on the road most of last year, not training hard. But she was able to arrange her schedule to be home from November 2019 to February 2020, allowing her to prepare for the Trials.

Roberta Groner, a single mother with three children and a full-time job, told us she fits in core work during the two minutes when her kids are brushing their teeth. Groner, by the way, emphasized that she prioritizes sleep. She gets up very early to train and get the kids off to school, but something tells me she’s not setting her alarm a single minute earlier than she has to.

Confidence.

This one is huge. As women, we’re not supposed to believe in ourselves, let alone just bluntly state how good we are. Eek! People might not like us!

Actually, the first time I ever saw Emma Kertesz’ name online, it was because she’d dared to describe herself as an elite runner and the trolls were livid. Emma’s not playing that fake-modesty game, and neither are the other Trials qualifiers we profiled. If you want to achieve, you need to be realistic about what you can do. Most of us are pretty good at identifying when we’re not quite ready to go for it, but often forget the other side of the coin: knowing when you can blow it out of the water. And not being afraid to say so.

Erica Kirkwood on her breakthrough race: “I knew I would qualify before I even stepped on the line at Grandma’s Marathon in June. ”

Molly Bookmyer on her fitness at a pre-OTQ race: “Honestly, if I had gone into the race with the mindset to OTQ, I probably would have been able to do it.”

Or, as Grace Gonzales put it, “I have learned that there are no real limits other than the self.” I feel like I should probably get this quote tattooed on my arm. Next time I race, you better believe I’ll be channeling these ladies’ confidence in their hard work.

The importance of community.

Whether it’s family, friends, or teammates, it’s key to surround yourself with people who lift you up. “Growing up seeing my dad, then older siblings, continuously commit and show up each year to prepare and participate in L.A. was motivating and inspiring,” says Grace Gonzales. Erica Kirkwood says her teammates’ passion for the sport is what inspired her to identify as an elite runner and pursue her own passion.

It also matters that your people have your back. Erica Kirkwood’s husband encouraged her to start running again and took over childcare duties so she could train. Teal Burrell has “Team Teal”, her whole family coming out to cheer for her in matching t-shirts.

Maybe it’s your coach, your Instagram friends, or your colleagues — it doesn’t have to be a spouse, life partner, or biological family — but treasure your people, whoever they are. Those bonds make you stronger.

What’s your favorite life lesson from a really fast runner?

 

 

I'm a 43-year-old living in Berlin, Germany and currently training for the 2020 Berlin Marathon.

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