Marathon season recently kicked off with the granddaddy of them all, Boston. For me and many of you, watching this race is no different than watching the World Series or the Super Bowl. Come to think of it, it is our World Series and Super Bowl. So it’s hard not to feel a little down when your team comes oh so close to winning but falls off at the end.
All major sports have big dogs, the teams that are not only fan favorites but have big bucks to spend on the best players and thus consistently have winning records. In running, the United States has all the money in comparison to other countries. Think of the Nike empire and all of its high tech gadgets and facilities. Look at how many international athletes come to the US to train. Nonetheless the “big dogs” in our sport, those who dominate the competition, often come from economically less fortunate beginnings.
It’s interesting to wonder, what does that all mean? What do we, as runners, learn from those breaking the tape?
I like following Letsrun’s live feeds when watching a race; it adds extra entertainment. There you don’t have to wait long for a debate about the dominance of East African runners. Is it really genetics or is it genetics enhanced with drugs? What if an American won this thing? It surely is rigged then! These are just some of the debates sparked. It’s fun to get sucked into the excitement of a championship as well as the drag of defeat!
But why does it always have to be about winning? Is this something that is more common in U.S culture, where we tend to be a more individualistic society? I’ll admit, I was left a bit downhearted after Boston this year. Desi and Ritz looked like they were going to pull it off but when the pack started to thin out and they got left behind, I did think, well, there goes that. It was fun while it lasted. Being a sports fan from Cleveland, Ohio, I know firsthand what it feels like to be the underdog; one who can perform well all season and then be picked up, chewed on, spit out, and left for dead by the competition when it matters most (hello championship drought for 51 years…come on Cavs!).
The beauty of running is that anyone can do it and then line up pretty close to the greats. Many elite athletes (no matter which country they come from) are close to and engage with their fans. They actively share their stories on Twitter and Instagram and will often show up for group runs at local running stores. And even though most of us will never be elite we can still get a taste of victory at a small race. Baseball, football, or basketball fans don’t usually have these unique experiences, where every weekend there is an opportunity to line up with the pros or semi pros and compete alongside them. And it’s true that we’re competing against ourselves, not against a defensive opposition, but that makes the victories much more sweet, I think.
In this sense, running becomes more than just about winning. Maybe we should take it for what it is rather than trying to make it be something it’s not. In doing so, we would see that Desi and Ritz’s performances were spectacular. Not too many others can compete with the big dogs like they did. If anything, they continue to be the elite class of runners in the US that set the bar high for aspiring runners looking to better themselves. Sure, some would say this is a settling type of attitude. But we can’t discount the fact that East African runners are that good. Which isn’t to say a US runner won’t ever beat them, rather it’s more of an approach that accepts reality for what is it and trusts the process of hard work as well as trusting–or at least hoping–that the sport is clean. But that’s another story for another day.
As a fan of many sports, I like watching a good ol’ fashioned victory by my favorite team or athlete. But as an athlete, I also like the process that goes into striving for a victory, even though I may not even be close to winning. As runners we can have both entertainment and self improvement. We can be both a fan and a participant. Other sports might be more pervasive in our culture, but I think our way surely does help us learn to relish victories from a whole different perspective.